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I Miss the Porcupines

Where are all the porcupines?

Last summer I asked several of my neighbors if they’d ever seen a porcupine up here.  I live in a forested area (mostly douglas firs, lodgepoles, limber pines and spruce), plenty of water, around 7,000 ft.  In all my hiking and tooling around, I’ve never seen any porcupine sign. According to Mark Elbroch Mammal Tracks and Sign

Porcupine scat can be found wherever there are porcupines, accumulating anywhere they feed or walk; it may be especially thick in crevices and hollows or even basements, where they rest.  In fact, scat accumulations may be so high at resting places that porcupines have to burrow through their own excrement to exit and enter.  Look for rivers of scat flowing from rock ledges where they hole up in the winter.  Some researchers suggest that this behavior may aid in providing shelters with insulations; winter scat is composed completely of tiny wood chips.

Scats are small, irregular tubes and pellets with rounded or pointy ends. Most scats curve over their length–this asymmetry helps differentiate them from deer scats.  Scats may also be linked and form chains.

Porcupine tracks are also very distinct:

While on a two week back pack trip in the Tetons, I was sleeping outside without a tent, my boots seated by my head.  In the middle of the night, I awoke to a strange sound, a munching sound.  It was pitch dark, no moon.  I looked around and saw nothing but a rock near my head.  I lay my head back down and the munching sound commenced again.  Then it hit me “That rock wasn’t there when I went to sleep.”  I sat up with a start and the ‘rock’ moved away into the darkness.  When I awoke in the morning,  the entire top part of my boot was eaten away.

Porcupines are notorious for chewing outhouse seats, leather, boots, etc.  They are looking for the salt.

When I began asking neighbors last summer about porcupines, I couldn’t find one that had seen any.  But the other day I did find one.  The winter ranch hand across the road has lived around here all of his 60 plus years.  He told me that in the 1950’s there were plenty of porcupines, so many that the Forest Service was asking people to shoot them.

“They didn’t like what they were doing to the trees.  We shouldn’t have shot them.  They weren’t doing nothin’ compared to these beetles.”

He said he hadn’t seen a porcupine for a long time.

Where have all the porcupines gone?  Its an unsolved mystery and no one has given me any answers.