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.