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Will The Senate Vote The Hellbender To Be State Amphibian? Stay Tuned!

The Senate has only five voting days left before they finish the budget and head home for the summer, but still no word on whether they plan to vote on Senate Bill 658 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) to designate the eastern hellbender Pennsylvania’s state amphibian.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and of of Pennsylvania’s representatives on the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Sen. Yaw took on the project at the request of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Student Leaders group.

“It’s about all species that rely on clean water, which essentially encompasses all wildlife in Pennsylvania, including us,” SLC President Anna Pauletta said of the campaign during a visit to Harrisburg in May. “Being able to speak up for something that doesn’t necessarily have a voice and making impact on their survivorship through legislation.” She is a senior at Cumberland Valley High School.

“Long-term we are also looking to raise awareness for clean water in general, but within the legislative process as well, because it’s an issue that is commonly overlooked,” Pauletta added.

Without help and more clean water, the Eastern hellbender could disappear.

“They are a natural barometer of water quality and they live where the water is clean,” Sen. Yaw said, recalling days as a youngster catching hellbenders in the local creek. “If they are surviving in the streams in this area, that is a good sign for the water quality. Here is nature’s own testing kit for good water quality.”

Much of what remains of a depleted hellbender population in Pennsylvania can be found in waters within the Senator’s district, which includes Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, part of Susquehanna and Union counties.

Hellbenders survive where there is cold, clear, swift-running water. They prefer rocky streambeds. Their sponge-like bodies allow them to squeeze into crevices which they use for protection and for nesting. The slimy salamanders feed at night, primarily on crayfish.

Folds of wrinkled skin provide a large surface through which they draw most of their oxygen.

The presence of streamside trees or forested buffers stands out among factors that enable hellbenders to survive.

“Forested buffers are one of the most cost-effective practices available for not only keeping pollutants out of the stream, but also for providing hellbenders cool, clean water and habitat to live,” said CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. “Science tells us no other practice does so much for so many.”

A lack of forested buffers along Commonwealth waterways allows waters to warm, polluted runoff to enter rivers and streams, and silt to build up in streambeds. As a result, habitat has been degraded and hellbender numbers were decimated in streams where they were plentiful as recently as 1990.

The Senator and the students believe recognizing the Eastern hellbender as the state amphibian can encourage more Pennsylvanians to protect it and its environment.

More information about the campaign for the Eastern hellbender, visit  CBF’s Hellbender webpage.  Click Here to watch a video about hellbenders.

Click Here to see how clean the streams are in your county.

For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to become a member.

Related Story:

Sen. Yaw, CBF Student Leaders Support Bill To Save Hellbenders And Clean Water In PA

PA Chesapeake Bay Commission Members Spotlight Need For Clean Water Fund In PA

[Posted: June 24, 2017]


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