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A porcupine in a hemlock tree. Photo by Esther Cowles.




The untouchables
Why porcupines might be taking over NH woods

12/08/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 Prickly porcupines have seemed more ubiquitous in New Hampshire woods in the past two years, and a shift in dominant predator species may be the cause.

Dave Anderson at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has wildlife cameras set up in his backyard, surveying his  heirloom crabapple trees. He said last year was such a good year for apples, his camera caught nighttime images that featured nearly every animal in the state’s animal kingdom feasting on the fruit.There were bears, deer, coyotes — and porcupines. 
He said the porcupines would saunter up to the figurative dinner table totally unfazed by the presence of large carnivores like coyotes. They had nothing to fear.
“[The porcupines] had diplomatic immunity. They were able to be in the apples and eating when there were bears there, when there were coyotes there,” Anderson said. “They get a lot of respect. They come walking in almost like a skunk and none of the other animals wants to mess with them.”
Coyotes and other predators who tend to hunt smaller mammals have the instincts and good sense to steer clear of porcupines. But porcupines do have a natural enemy — the fisher. They manage to injure porcupines by pushing them out of trees and exercise a great deal of agility and skill to get at the soft underbelly of the porcupine, which is unprotected by quills.
So why aren’t fishers keeping the porcupine population under control? Fisher numbers appear to be dwindling.
“Anecdotally … fishers seem to be rare right now,” Anderson said.
Porcupines are not a monitored species because they’re not endangered, and fishers’ numbers are only partially understood by trapping figures tracked by the state, so there’s no hard data to back up Anderson’s theory, but it makes sense; the relative absence of a primary predator would give porcupines more free rein. 
Anderson isn’t sure yet what could be contributing to the change in fisher numbers but he’s working on a theory that partially has to do with fishers’ interaction with pine martens, a smaller weasel with lighter fur that’s more common in Maine.
Meanwhile, coyotes have been growing in dominance lately and eating up much of the herbivore competition for porcupines. That means more food for the spiky animals. 
Porcupines will eat fruits, vegetables and tree branches. Their breeding season just ended, and in the winter they tend to shack up in ledges with a tree they can use to climb in and out.
They can wreak havoc on gardens, so Anderson recommends strong fencing to protect your crops. He had to protect a willow tree on his property by wrapping stove pipe around the trunk. Sheet metal would also do the trick.
If you have dogs in a wooded neighborhood, Anderson said a leash may be the best way to protect your pet. Anderson can speak firsthand on how expensive is to have a vet remove quills, which have barbs on the end that make them hard to pull out. 





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