When is the last time you saw a porcupine?

Fifteen years ago, our third largest rodent lived in the trees above our garden and frequented our porch at night.  Baby porcupines were as tame as pets and attracted many a neighbor.  It seemed everywhere I traveled in the Columbia Gorge, porcupines were abundant.

I have not come across a porcupine during the past 10 years and I am not alone wondering why these intrinsic animals of the West have disappeared.  University of Montana researcher Katie Mally, who is studying for a master’s degree in wildlife biology have started the first study of porcupine populations in the West and why they appear to be declining.

In 2006, Mally put out a survey and magazine ad, which prompted hundreds of responses from outfitters, hikers, rural residents and others who said they were seeing far fewer porcupines than in past decades.

Mally originally intended to compare populations at lower and higher elevations, but no porcupines could be found in the Bitterroot Mountains. In other Montana locales, the researchers have put radio collars on 10 porcupines.

Rick Sweitzer, California’s foremost porcupine expert, agrees that the porcupine seems to have become scarce.Sweitzer, an ecologist and associate adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, did his doctoral dissertation on porcupines in Nevada.”The indications seem to be that porcupines, where they were once present, are not present any more,” said Sweitzer. “I think we’re just now noticing.”

Compared to most rodents, the porcupine is not a prolific breeder. Each female gives birth to only one offspring per year. As a result, Sweitzer said, it may be that we are only now noticing the long-term effect of historic and ongoing agricultural, ranching and marijuana farming poisoning practices. Sweitzer said a concerted research effort is needed to determine the population status of porcupines.

We would that porcupines will recover their population in the Gorge again.  Now having families of their own, our grandchildren should have the same opportunity to witness the full display of nature’s wonders ~