Pa. declares open season on porcupines

A porcupine wanders around downtown Fairbanks, Alaska. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has declared "open season" on porcupines. (AP File Photo)
A porcupine wanders around downtown Fairbanks, Alaska. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has declared "open season" on porcupines. (AP File Photo) (Joshua Mellman)
Posted: April 12, 2011

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania hunters may now set their sights on porcupines - but only between September and the end of March.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission on Tuesday amended its plan to approve a wide-open, shoot-'em-anytime season on the nation's second largest rodent.

But the commission, over objections of wildlife biologists, lifted the 30-year-old protections that had made it illegal to hunt the porcupine, a shy, nocturnal forest-dweller whose only protection is its spiky suit of 30,000 quills, and who is rarely seen in many parts of the state.

The eight-member board voted unanimously to set a limited, seven-month season, beginning this September. Hunting is still prohibited during spring and summer months when porcupines are raising their young.

During the season, the commission decreed, hunters can kill as many as six porcupines a day.

"In the long run, it will benefit the species," commission vice president Ralph Martone said.

"It was the best solution at the time, between moving from 'protected' to an open season," said member David Schreffler, who offered the amended proposal. "We thought there should be some kind of control."

As The Inquirer reported Sunday, the commission had been set to approve an open season on porcupines, whose top speed is about 2 mph. Commission member Dave Putnam recommended this move.

Putnam said he had heard complaints about the salt-craving, wood-and-rubber-chewing rodents from residents in his Centre County area. Among the complainants, Putnam said, was his own brother - who told of having to repair a telephone wire twice after porcupines gnawed through it.

It has always been legal to kill a nuisance porcupine on one's property, but instituting a hunting season will "eliminate the gray area" and allow more leeway for property owners to kill troublesome porcupines not on their property, said Putnam.

"We are not declaring war on the porcupine," he said.

Tell that to the animal welfare advocates and wildlife biologists who assailed the commission for taking action without first gathering scientific data about Pennsylvania's porcupine population, and after a grand total of four reported complaints about the creatures in the past five years.

Uldis Roze, a Queens College professor emeritus who is regarded as an authority on North American porcupines, said Tuesday's policy change in Pennsylvania "saddens" him.

"A bag limit of five or six animals a day is particularly troubling, and suggests industrial-scale killing of an animal with a very low reproductive potential," said Roze. He noted that it is mainly females who wander into inhabited areas seeking salt and would likely be killed - thus further threatening the population.

"Porcupines are rare and original animals, much like koalas in Australia," said Roze. "Spotting one in the wilderness enhances the wilderness experience. The proposal to kill the animals, with no economic justification, seems short-sighted and in conflict with the goal of protecting our wilderness."

The game commission's Putnam said road kill and homeowner complaints suggest the porcupines' range - once limited to the northernmost sections of Pennsylvania - has moved southward in the last three decades, though not as far as the southeast.

John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife with the Humane Society of the United States, called the state commission's decision "poor wildlife management."

"The only positive in this over the open season, is that they won't be orphaning babies and killing two for every one," said Hadidian. "We know nothing about whether there is a viable population, what the density is and nothing about their vulnerability."

Commission members said a hunting season will allow them to monitor porcupine populations and territories via the agency's annual survey of hunters. "We'll have reliable statistics of how many they take and where," said Putnam.

Commission vice president Martone called the setting of a limited season a "prudent course" that would benefit the porcupines "in the long run."

Martone said, "Two, three four years down the road, maybe there will be a reversal or maybe a longer season. We had to start somewhere."

Some other states protect porcupines; some don't. They are protected in Maryland but not New York or New Jersey.

The Humane Society's Hadidian contended the Pennsylvania commission should have started by collecting data to determine whether instituting a hunting season would harm what may well be a rare species within Pennsylvania's ecosystem.

"Wild animals belong to everybody in the state," Hadidian said, "not just to hunters."


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

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