Back on the porcupine beat

A woman called this morning. “This may sound strange,” she said, “but are you the person who wrote an article about porcupines?”

I immediately knew what was up. Every once in a while someone calls me to report a porcupine sighting. See, I wrote a story in 2012 about how porcupines are increasingly rare in the Sierra Nevada. So when people see a porcupine, and they hop on Google to find out how unusual that is, they find my old article and give me a call.

The weirdest such call came a couple of months ago. I wasn’t here so the guy left a voicemail. “I found a porcupine in Winnemucca, Nevada,” he said. Click.

Photo from the National Park Service

Today’s caller, 33-year-old Harper Dial of South Lake Tahoe, was a bit more talkative. But get this: Harper hasn’t seen just one porcupine. No, she’s seen seven of them, over a period of less than three years.

“A bunch of people have told me that they don’t believe me,” she said. “Then they’ve seen one with me. It’s very weird. I think they’re like my spirit animal. I know that sounds really dumb.”

One of the porcupines Harper hit with her car. She took him to a wildlife refuge, and eventually the animal recovered and was released back into the forest.

“I was happy when I went back and it was alive,” she said. “I felt a lot better about the whole thing.”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Sierra and I’ve never seen a porcupine. Though I’ve never lived there, either. Certainly someone who lives at Tahoe would be more likely over the long haul to have that experience.

Porcupines aren’t endangered. Why have they become more difficult to find? One theory is that porcupines, which have a slow reproductive rate, have never fully recovered from aerial poisonings administered by the government in an effort to protect timber half a century ago.

Whatever the cause of the apparent decline, I’m glad Harper called. If one person saw seven porcupines, then there have to be a heck of a lot of them out there, right?

Any bets on how long before I get another call?

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