HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (7News) — Allegheny woodrats were captured, tagged, and released in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, according to the National Park Service.
The woodrats were last seen 20 years ago and rediscovered this summer in the park's rocky forests.
The Allegheny woodrat has experienced large population declines and even gone locally extinct over several parts of its native Appalachian range, experts said.
Wildlife biologists documented both adults and young of this furry species in Harpers Ferry.
More closely related to a mouse than a rat, the Allegheny woodrat is a packrat that prefers rocky outcrops close to wooded areas. It stashes acorns, plant parts, seeds and nuts in its burrow, and collects non-food items like feathers, bones, coins, leather scraps, bottle caps and rags.
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Woodrats benefit their forest environment, spreading seeds across the landscape and helping to support plant survival and diversity. They also serve as an indicator species for scientists monitoring overall ecosystem conditions.
“The Allegheny woodrat is a remarkable species, and we’re thrilled to find them again in the Harpers Ferry area,” said Nicole Keefner, a biological science technician at Harpers Ferry NHP. “This rediscovery is an important reminder of the value of protecting natural places that provide crucial habitats for plants and wildlife.”
The Allegheny woodrat survey in Harpers Ferry NHP is part of a collaborative research effort between the National Park Service, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and Radford University. The woodrats recorded in the survey were ear-tagged, enabling wildlife biologists to monitor and track population trends over time. They will use the data in ongoing research and conservation efforts.
“Given the Allegheny woodrat’s rarity across their historical range, collaborative efforts like this can go a long way in conserving the species,” said Dr. Karen Powers, Biology Professor at Radford University.
The presence of an active, reproducing Allegheny woodrat population at Harpers Ferry continues the string of recent successes for vulnerable wildlife in the park.
Earlier this year, a pair of peregrine falcons, a formerly endangered species, returned again to their historic nesting grounds on Maryland Heights, and three of their chicks successfully fledged.