HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (WBOY) — A native Appalachian animal that has experienced population declines so steep that it was believed to have been locally extinct in many parts of the mountain range has been found in a national park, the National Park Service (NPS) announced in a press release.

The NPS said both adult and young Allegheny woodrats were discovered in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for the first time in 20 years over the summer during the Allegheny woodrat survey. They are officially classified as a vulnerable species.

Allegheny woodrats were captured, tagged and released in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park this summer. Credit: K. Black, Radford University via the National Park Service

Though they may look like rats, the NPS said they’re more closely related to mice, and Allegheny woodrats fill an important niche in the ecosystem by stashing acorns, plant parts, seeds and nuts, which helps plants survive and keeps forests biodiverse. The NPS said the woodrats also serve as a good indicator of the overall health of the Appalachian ecosystem.

“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 woodrats found were ear tagged so that scientists can track their population trends over time in ongoing research and conservation efforts.

The Allegheny woodrat survey was a collaborative research effort conducted by the National Park Service, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and Radford University.