Naming state amphibian promotes education, environment, senator says | News

Naming Pennsylvania’s first official state amphibian is not just about the Eastern Hellbender, the aquatic critter that Tuesday will receive that designation.

It’s also about education and the environment.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23 of Loyalsock Township, who sponsored the legislation in the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 sessions, will join Gov. Tom Wolf and other supporters during a bill signing ceremony late Tuesday morning at the State Capitol. Senate Bill 9 designates the Eastern Hellbender as the first official “State Amphibian” of Pennsylvania.

Yaw said it was a group of students from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council who brought the issue to him and developed the legislation with the help of Lycoming College’s Clean Water Institute. 

“The education part of this is the students or the kids that started this thing or brought it to my office, to my attention, are a tremendous example of a group of people getting together with an idea and showing how our system does work,” he said. 

The senator said the more he learned about the hellbender, also known as the hellbender salamander or spotted water gecko, the more he could not think of a better symbol for how Pennsylvania thinks about clean water.

“They’re the canary in the coal mine,” Yaw said. “They can’t live in bad water.” 

He said the bill is more than just about naming a new symbol for the state.

“It’s about fostering youth involvement in the legislative process, and championing an issue through that process,” he said. “It’s about advocating for clean water in Pennsylvania and promoting conservation programs that improve water quality for all of our species.” 

Wolf voiced similar comments in a statement issued on Monday.

“Hellbenders need clean water to thrive and survive, and DEP (the Department of Environmental Protection) has been working to improve water quality throughout the salamander’s range,” Wolf said. “Naming the hellbender the official state amphibian is a great way to draw attention to the types of projects that help provide the clear, clean water that DEP and partner organizations have made possible.”

According to a statement from the governor’s office, sediment pollution in water can choke hellbenders and bury their eggs in riverbeds, threatening their populations. Planting trees along streambanks and repairing eroded banks to reduce sediment can improve hellbender habitat.

Loyalsock Creek, named River of the Year for 2018, is a waterway that has been improved through DEP grants and partnerships throughout the watershed.

Yaw said the legislation is a departure from many bills that usually are presented to solve some egregious problem.

“This is something people will smile about,” the senator said.

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