Pennsylvania Update

From the Desk of Harry Campbell

Summer 2017

Saving an ancient salamander and clean water

A campaign on behalf of North America's largest salamander is the brainchild of the CBF Pennsylvania's Student Leadership Council (SLC). The students have studied the Eastern Hellbender extensively, wrote the first draft of Senate Bill 658, which was cosponsored by State senators Gene Yaw (R-23rd), Mike Regan (R-31st) and Richard Alloway (R-33rd), and are working for its passage.

Senate Bill 658 would designate the Eastern Hellbender as Pennsylvania's official state amphibian.

SLC President Anna Pauletta said, "It's about all species that rely on clean water, which essentially encompasses all wildlife in Pennsylvania, including us. Being able to speak up for something that doesn't necessarily have a voice and making impact on their survivorship through legislation." Anna is a senior at Cumberland Valley High School. (Listen to CBF President Will Baker's interview with Anna)

Hellbenders survive where there is cold, clear, swift-running water. They prefer rocky streambeds. Their spongelike bodies allow them to squeeze into crevices which they use for protection and for nesting. Folds of wrinkled skin provide a large surface through which they draw most of their oxygen.

"They are a natural barometer of water quality and they live where the water is clean," Senator 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."

Streamside trees or forested buffers are key to hellbender survival.

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.

In Pennsylvania, roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams are harmed by pollution.

The student effort on behalf of the hellbender began last summer. PA CBF student leaders have installed hellbender nesting boxes in the upper Susquehanna, and sampled streams for the presence of hellbender DNA.

For more information about the campaign for the Eastern hellbender, go to

Grant to empower, educate urban communities about polluted runoff

Residents in Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster will be able to learn about the problems caused by polluted runoff and have a say in how it is addressed, thanks to a state Environmental Education Grant to be administered by PA CBF.

The environmental justice project will be funded by a grant of $42,360 from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and matched by CBF. The Harrisburg area Capital Region Water is a key partner.

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell defined environmental justice as "empowering low-income minority communities with better environmental information so they can more fully participate in the kinds of processes we at the department engage in every day; connecting people with their environment and their government to get better outcomes."

Our environmental justice project will also include a demonstration rain garden in the City of Harrisburg, to be installed in the spring of 2018.

Urban and suburban polluted runoff is the only source of pollution that continues to increase within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Impervious surfaces like roofs, streets, and parking lots generate polluted runoff that can find its way into the nearest river or stream, causing nuisance flooding and threatening drinking water sources, among other things.

Prioritizing education about water quality, especially in our disadvantaged communities, builds a stronger community overall. We all have a stake in clean water. Our health, way of life, and economic wellbeing depend on it. That's why we all should have the knowledge and opportunity to be part of the solution.

—Harry Campbell
Pennsylvania Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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