Alleghany Woodrat Surveys

Bat Conservation and Management, Inc. is a leading provider of Allegheny woodrat habitat survey and radio telemetry fieldwork.

Recognized as an Allegheny woodrat specialist in Pennsylvania, BCM has completed woodrat habitat surveys and radio telemetry projects across the state supporting developments such as wind facilities, gas pipelines, transmission lines, timber sales, mining, and highway construction.

About the Woodrat
The Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister) is found along the Appalachian mountains, from northern Alabama to northeastern New Jersey. In Pennsylvania woodrats were historically found throughout the mountainous parts of the state, but recent surveys indicate their range here has diminished, with most colonies found west of the Susquehanna River.

The presence of Allegheny woodrats is most often determined by characteristic toilet areas. Toilet areas can be found on flat rocks under small overhangs and consist of scat pellets larger than mouse droppings and smaller than porcupine pellets. Dry, gray dusty pellets represent old, possibly inactive toilet areas while moist, black pellets indicate recent woodrat activity. Surveyors may also find piles of fresh herbaceous vegetation stored under rock overhangs. Woodrats eat food on-site for most of the summer, but in fall they cache food in protective crevices.

The diet of Allegheny woodrats consists almost exclusively of vegetable matter that provides both food and water. They feed on green vegetation, acorns, fruits, nuts, fungi, ferns, seeds, berries, leaves, green briar, and hackberry. Many of these items may be garnered by the rats well above ground, which indicates that some of their foraging is done in the crowns of the trees and shrubs. A typical food cache in Pennsylvania will contain ferns that have been deliberately folded into an accordion shape for easy transport.

Less frequently surveyors may find a woodrat hutch. When built in a cave, the hutch may be open at the top. The hutches are well constructed, moderating temperature extremes. There is one woodrat per hutch, with the houses distributed over the available habitat; this tends to spread out the rats, reducing competition.

The home range is rather limited; the animals usually stay close to the home den. Studies suggest that 85-meters is an exceptional distance for them to travel during their foraging activities. Also, they are more or less colonial to the extent that several rats will establish themselves in a relatively restricted locality. In one instance 35 to 50 woodrats lived in a 180-meter distance along a favorable gully in the western US.

Preferred Habitat
The Allegheny woodrat does not thrive around civilization. It prefers rock strewn sites, usually mountaintops and valley sides. Caves, cliffs, or boulders provide the network of subsurface crevices that shelter woodrats. A network of deep crevices is vital for the protection of the hutch and food storage, and hutches are rarely visible without going at least a few feet underground. The more complex the rock strata is, the more likely woodrats will be found within it. However, subpar rock exposures or superficial surface rock that it too small to use for denning may be important cover for connecting larger rock exposures elsewhere. Their nocturnal habits and remote locations make the woodrats largely unknown among the general public.

Reasons for Listing
The Allegheny woodrat has been classified as threatened because populations have suffered significant declines across the northern part of their range. The woodrat is no longer found in Connecticut and New York. In Pennsylvania they are absent from many historic sites, particularly in the eastern part of the state. Where they persist, their numbers are low.

Habitat Survey
BCM will sweep your project area with a team of biologists in search of rocky habitat. We record surveyors search tracks so a permanent record is available for compliance surveys. Any rocky habitat that is encountered is assessed and photo documented. Natural caves or abandoned mines require special equipment and training to safely assess. Woodrat sign, if found, is documented not only on extensive survey forms but photographed for the record. Little or no rocky habitat is important to document as well, so BCM will make available survey records that were "for the record only."

Long-term Monitoring
BCM can systematically map your rocky habitat, establish permanent stations, and provide long-term monitoring conducted the same way each season to track changes in population estimates.

Radio Telemetry
BCM has experience with long term telemetry which monitors movement outside the woodrat's activity center. Such information is helpful in determining how much of the proposed development is within woodrat activity area and how frequently the development area is visited