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Officials thrilled after sighting rare 'species of concern' on hidden trail cam: 'An important reminder of the value of protecting natural places'

"The Allegheny woodrat is a remarkable species."

"The Allegheny woodrat is a remarkable species."

Photo Credit: PA Game Commission

An Allegheny woodrat, a small rodent native to the Appalachian Mountains, has been spotted on a trail camera in the Monongahela National Forest, much to the delight of ecologists and conservationists, USA Today reported.

The squirrel-sized animal, more closely related to a mouse than a rat, is listed as threatened and protected under the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code and labeled as a "Regional Forester's Sensitive Species on the Monongahela National Forest." In West Virginia, where it was recently spotted, it is classified as vulnerable and a "species of concern."

The Allegheny woodrat is "at moderate risk of extinction or elimination due to restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors," according to the National Parks Service.

All these classifications mean essentially the same thing: The Allegheny woodrat is not doing well in the wild, largely because of food shortages, increased predator populations, and human encroachment. The U.S. Forest Service reported in a Facebook post with a video that there are likely fewer than 100,000 remaining in the wild.

So, it's great news when one of these creatures is spotted in a national park. Prior to a 2022 sighting of one at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the species hadn't been seen in 20 years. 

"The Allegheny woodrat is a remarkable species, and we're thrilled to find them again," Nicole Keefner, a biological science technician at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, said in a news release following the 2022 sighting. "This rediscovery is an important reminder of the value of protecting natural places that provide crucial habitats for plants and wildlife."

One way to protect wildlife at home is to add native plants to your outdoor space, which will encourage pollinators and provide a habitat for small creatures. 

While two sightings of Allegheny woodrats in two years may not yet be a trend, it is definitely encouraging — and it's more evidence that when threatened species and their habitats are protected, they can mount comebacks.

Other recent examples of threatened or endangered species that appear, anecdotally, to be rebounding include the North Pacific right whale, the California red-legged frog, and more.

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