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Eastern Hellbender May Get Endangered Status, Protection in New York

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Various animals face various threats all over the world. In New York, the eastern hellbender's numbers have dropped to almost 50 percent in the last few decades, prompting a group of environmentalists to clamor for greater protection for the salamander.

To achieve their goal, the environmentalists filed a petition with the Department of Environmental Conservation, citing several reasons why the eastern hellbender should be provided protection allocated for other endangered species.

"Hellbenders face numerous threats in New York, including sedimentation, low water quality, lack of habitat, and disease. Significant declines in hellbender populations in both the Allegheny and Susquehanna watersheds suggest that this species, without protection, could become extirpated in the near future in the Susquehanna drainage, and may also disappear from the Allegheny drainage," summarized the petition.

Endemic to New York, the eastern hellbender was given the "special concern species" status by the state's conservation officials back in 1983.

Today, the eastern salamander is already included in the endangered species lists in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Maryland and deemed threatened in Alabama. It hasn't been designated anything in Kentucky, but the eastern hellbender population there is quickly dwindling.

Flat-bodied eastern hellbenders can grow up to two feet long, lounging in freestone streams with fast-moving water and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Because it is constricted by geographic limitations, eastern hellbenders are easy to find, simplifying the acquisition process for collectors. In fact, there was a time when looking under a suitable rock would yield a salamander for the taking.

Out of the listed petitioners, foremost is Amy McMillan, Ph.D., an associate professor from the State University of New York's department of biology. She has researched conservation efforts with hellbenders in the state, publishing peer-reviewed work as a member of the New York State Hellbender Recovery Team. McMillan was also the organizer for the 5th Hellbender Symposium back in 2011 and is involved in identifying populations of hellbenders in Eastern United States.

Other petitioners include the Center for Biological Diversity, a not-for-profit public interest corporation; Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, a nonprofit environmental organization; Earthjustice, a not-for-profit environmental law firm; Donna M. Fernandes, Ph.D., CEO and president of the Buffalo Zoo; Peter Rosenbaum, Ph.D., a biological sciences professor from the State University of New York; Alvin R. Breisch, M.S., an independent reptile and amphibian consultant; and Robin Foster, M.A., also a member of the New York Hellbender Recovery Team.

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