(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) applauded the unanimous approval by the state Senate State Government Committee of Senate Bill 9 on Tuesday, to designate the Eastern Hellbender as Pennsylvania's official state amphibian.
Senate Bill 9 now moves to the full Senate for approval.
"The hellbender is a natural indicator of clean water," Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) told committee members. Senator Yaw is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 9 and chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
"I could not think of a better symbol for Pennsylvania, with all the waterways that we have and the emphasis we place on clean water, than to have the hellbender as a symbol that we could use throughout the state to promote clean water," Senator Yaw added.
Members of CBF's Student Leadership Council (SLC) have been leading the effort to recognize the largest salamander in North America and to emphasize its role in demonstrating the critical need for cleaner rivers and streams in the Commonwealth.
"Clean water is important for humans and amphibians, and if we don't act on making our waterways as clean as they can be, we will all suffer from it," former SLC President Abby Hebenton said. "So, it's important to bring awareness to it in a positive way, like with the hellbender, than deal with the repercussions later."
Hellbenders survive where there is cold, clear, swift-running water. Folds of wrinkled skin provide a large surface through which the salamanders draw most of their oxygen.
Alack of streamside trees 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 for hellbenders has been degraded and hellbender numbers have been decimated in streams where they were plentiful as recently as 1990.
CBF student leaders studied hellbenders extensively, installed nesting boxes in several Pennsylvania streams, and wrote the first draft of Senate Bill 658, which passed the Senate in the last session, but languished in a House committee.
"The students have shown a remarkable amount of determination," said Lane Whigham, CBF Outreach and Advocacy Manager in Pennsylvania. "Their desire to learn the Pennsylvania legislative process is second only to their sheer tenacity to raise awareness of the hellbender's plight and the need for clean water. With students who share this level of dedication to Pennsylvania's environment, I feel certain the future is in good hands."
For more information about the campaign for the Eastern hellbender, go to www.cbf.org/hellbender.