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Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She's the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Hellbender step closer to being PA clean-water mascot

Senate passes bill designating giant salamander state amphibian

  • November 15, 2017
Eastern hellbenders are North America's largest salamander. They can grow up to two feet long, and live under giant rocks in clear mountain streams from Arkansas to New York. (Dave Harp)

The Eastern hellbender is one step closer to becoming Pennsylvania’s official state amphibian after the Senate voted 47 to 2 Wednesday to pass a bill calling for its designation. The hellbender is North America’s largest salamander and only lives in pristine mountain streams, so environmental advocates want to make it a sort of clean-water mascot.

A group of Pennsylvania high school students organized by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been campaigning to name the hellbender the state amphibian. The students waded in streams with renowned scientists to study the giant salamander and its habitat.  They also drafted a bill and lobbied Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), a key committee chairman and member of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, to sponsor the legislation.

“This effort was an endeavor of students; they identified this as a need and an opportunity and took it under their wing,” said Harry Campbell, executive director for the foundation’s Harrisburg office. “We thank our Student Leadership Council and Sen. Yaw for recognizing the importance of the hellbender and of clean water. The hellbender is so unique a creature and special to Pennsylvania and the types of rivers and streams that can support them.”

The two senators who voted against the hellbender’s designation represent counties in Western Pennsylvania, outside of the Bay watershed but in prime territory for the amphibian. The bill now goes to the House.

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About Donna Morelli
Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She's the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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