HARRISBURG – Six months after being introduced, legislation designating the Eastern Hellbender as “State Amphibian” was approved today by the Senate, according to the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Gene Yaw (R-23).
Senate Bill 658 enhances the profile of North America’s largest salamander. Native to certain areas where water quality is pristine, the Eastern Hellbender serves as a natural indicator species due to its sensitivity to poor water quality and pollution.
“Because the Eastern Hellbender exemplifies what is good about Pennsylvania’s waterways, it is the perfect selection to become the official State Amphibian,” Senator Yaw said. “It is an excellent natural indicator of water quality, so, in effect, if you have hellbenders in your water the water quality most likely is very good.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council, consisting of high school students, invested many hours studying the Eastern Hellbender and the problems the amphibian is facing within the state. With assistance from Lycoming College in Williamsport, the students drafted Senate Bill 658 and met with elected officials to outline why they felt it should be the state amphibian.
Peter Petokas, Ph.D., Amphibian Conservation Biologist at Lycoming College and faculty member of the College’s Clean Water Institute, applauded Senate action. “Passage of Senate Bill 658 takes the Eastern Hellbender one step closer to the status of official amphibian of the State of Pennsylvania, a designation that it uniquely deserves and which will help promote conservation programs that protect and sustain the unique amphibian resources of the commonwealth.”
“Even in times of budget crisis and pensions and everything else impacting Pennsylvania, this is something that showed the student sponsors of the bill that their elected officials do, indeed, listen to them. They had a great idea and I was privileged to present their idea to the Senate on their behalf,” Sen. Yaw added.
Senate Bill 658 now moves to the House of Representatives. If approved by the House and signed by the Governor, the Eastern Hellbender would join the ranks of the White-Tail Deer as the State Animal, Ruffed Grouse as the State Bird, the Great Dane as the State Dog and the Brook Trout as the State Fish.
Adam Pankake, Executive Director