Pa. Game board scales back porcupine hunting

A porcupine hides in a tree. (Ad Crable / Staff)

Last year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission stirred controversy when it established a statewide hunting season for porcupines.

Animal rights advocates tried to block the hunt, claiming porcupines have a low reproduction rate and therefore can't withstand hunting pressure.

On Tuesday, in the heart of Pennsylvania's first-ever porcupine season, the Board of Game Commissioners moved to scale back the hunt for the 2012-13 season.

They did so out of fear that an illegal market for porcupines could originate in the state.

"There are a couple of different markets for them," said Rich Palmer, director of the Game Commission's Bureau of Law Enforcement. "There is the traditional Native-American-type circuit, where they're looking for everything from furs to quills to claws and full paws, and things like that.

"There's also a huge international market."

Porcupines are quite valuable in Vietnam, according to Palmer, where they are primarily sold for the meat.

"They have basically almost eliminated a lot of the wild population … through overhunting" in Vietnam, he said.

No one has been charged with illegally killing or selling porcupines in Pennsylvania since the state's inaugural hunting season began last summer, Palmer said.

But he said there are "investigations pending."

"We have had intelligence through our special investigations unit that there are people soliciting to purchase them for export to Vietnam," Palmer said.

Prior to 2011, porcupines were protected animals in Pennsylvania.

The Board of Game Commissioners launched the idea for a porcupine season primarily to allow landowners - primarily in mountainous regions - a way to control their numbers.

Porcupines are known to cause damage by chewing on wood siding on houses and other outbuildings.

Commissioners said they believed some landowners experiencing problems with porcupines were killing them illegally.

Establishing a hunting season provides a legal way for landowners to deal with problem porcupines.

Pennsylvania's first porcupine season opened Sept. 1, 2011, and is slated to run through March 31.

Hunters can take six per day every day of the season.

A proposal offered by the commissioners Tuesday would reduce the daily limit to three and establish a season limit of 10.

"Most people who would take porcupines as a damage-prevention method, or even incidental to other hunting activities, will not usually exceed the 10-animal season limit … " Palmer said. "The regulation will assist, however, in limiting an individual from targeting animals specifically for sale by placing the 10-animal season limit, as investigators will often be able to identify sales exceeding that amount."

It is illegal to sell edible parts of any wild animal shot in Pennsylvania.

"Inedible parts, such as quills and claws, could be sold by the original hunter within 90 days of the close of the season," Palmer said. "Those parts may not be resold by the purchasing individual, as the exemption (allowing a sale) only applies to … the hunter."

For the reduced daily and season bag limits on porcupines to take effect, the commissioners must vote on the proposal again at their next meeting, which will be held in April.

Board president Ralph Martone said he hopes the rules modification will stop a potential problem before it starts in Pennsylvania.

"I have to give (Palmer) some credit for being aware of this, doing the research and coming to us with some good information before those markets get started - before we started seeing issues," he said.

preilly@lnpnews.com