Student-Crafted Hellbender Bill Approved by Senate Committee



HARRISBURG – Two days into the start of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session, a legislative proposal championed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council has already won support in the state Senate, according to Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23).

On Tuesday, the Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48), unanimously approved Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Yaw, which designates the Eastern Hellbender as the first “State Amphibian” of Pennsylvania.

CBF’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 the legislation during the 2017-2018 Legislative Session, meeting with elected officials to outline why they felt it should be the state amphibian.  Yaw agreed to reintroduce the measure in the new legislative session.

“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.  The hellbender will be a visible symbol of Pennsylvania’s commitment to clean water.”

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 9 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.

If approved by the General Assembly 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.


An eastern hellbender held by a researcher. / Photo provided by Peter Petokas, a research associate at the Clean Water Institute of Lycoming College’s biology department.
Senator Gene Yaw, sponsor of Senate Bill 9, offers comments during the Senate State Government Committee meeting in Harrisburg on Tuesday.



Nick Troutman, Executive Director

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