Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Packrat Plan Return of the Allegheny Woodrat Could Help to Rehabilitate Lost Habitats across the State

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Packrat Plan Return of the Allegheny Woodrat Could Help to Rehabilitate Lost Habitats across the State

Article excerpt

As suburbia reaches farther and farther into the landscape, natural environments and habitats are changed, if not destroyed. Add pollution and deforestation, and habitats across Pennsylvania look little like they did generations ago.

Such changes greatly have reduced the habitats available for the Allegheny woodrat, a threatened species the Pennsylvania Game Commission hopes can help restore those lost habitats.

Delaware Valley College received 11 woodrats, donated by Purdue University, about a month ago. Purdue and the Game Commission hope to breed the woodrats and replenish local habitats with the threatened species.

"We have provided a whole variety of problems here that have impacted them," said Reg Hoyt, co-chair of the Animal Biotechnology and Conservation Department at Delaware Valley College. "Where they're not being found is probably an indicator that the habitat isn't in good shape."

Often referred to as "packrats," woodrats usually are found on rocky outcrops near cliffs or in caves. A cousin of the common house rat -- properly known as the Norway rat -- woodrats live on their own, but within distance of other woodrats to mate when the mood strikes. Their natural rocky habitat may not seem the healthiest in the first place; woodrats must live near a thriving forest to find enough food, especially to store plenty of food to survive the winter.

"It is a very specialized habitat in which it will be found," Hoyt said. "But then again, the quality of the forest nearby has to be good enough to maintain that population. It's always been a balancing act."

That population has declined over the past half-century, placing the woodrat on Pennsylvania's threatened species list since 1983. It is also considered a "responsibility species" within the state, as more than 5 percent of the world's woodrat population can be found in Pennsylvania.

"They have a lifespan of about 18 months, so it's pretty much grow, reproduce and go," said Jerry Feaser, a Game Commission spokesman. "Given the difficulty of the break-up of habitat, that's made a challenge for them to survive, let alone where they live. …

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