(HARRISBURG)—A bill designating the Eastern hellbender as Pennsylvania's official state amphibian is headed to Governor Tom Wolf's desk.
Student advocates for the largest salamander in North America and cleaner waters in the Commonwealth couldn't be happier.
The state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to pass Senate Bill 9 and make it available for the Governor's signature. The bill was sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and was passed by the Senate in early February.
"The passing of this bill is sure to allow hellbenders to breathe easier in the near future and give them a better chance of survival—not to mention a better chance for a clean water legacy in Pennsylvania," said Emma Stone, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Student Leadership Council (SLC) in Pennsylvania. "My fellow student leaders and I thank our representatives for their support of the hellbender bill. We are one step closer to cleaner water because of it."
For over two years, CBF student leaders have spearheaded efforts to recognize the Eastern hellbender and create greater awareness of the salamander's role in demonstrating the critical need to reduce pollution in Pennsylvania's rivers and streams.
Students 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.
Hellbenders are an indicator species for clean water in that they 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.
A lack 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.
More information about the campaign for the Eastern hellbender, go to www.cbf.org/hellbender.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Anna Pauletta, SLC President when the hellbender campaign began, will be available for media interviews Tuesday afternoon. Please call B.J. Small, CBF Media and Communications Coordinator, at 717-200-4521 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a time to speak with Ms. Pauletta.