SAVING THE HELLBENDER
Hellbenders may not be pretty, but these strictly aquatic salamanders are as interesting as their awesome name implies — and they can grow up to two feet long, which makes them the largest North American amphibian. Unfortunately, many of the streams where hellbenders once lived are now too polluted to support the species, which is also threatened by unsustainable collection, persecution by anglers, disease, fish stocking and loss of genetic diversity. As a consequence, the hellbender is facing drastic population declines across its range in the eastern United States.
The Center has been working to secure protections for the hellbender for years. In April 2010 we filed a scientific petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list 404 Southeast aquatic, riparian and wetland species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, including the hellbender.
Specifically there's the Ozark hellbender, a subspecies of hellbender native to streams of the Ozark plateau in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. That subspecies languished for nearly a decade on the Service's “candidate list” with dozens of other imperiled animals and plants that have been declared deserving of protection but whose federal safeguards have been postponed indefinitely. In September 2010, the Service finally proposed to list the Ozark hellbender as endangered, but the agency refused to grant the salamander any critical habitat as is required under the Endangered Species Act. So two months later, the Center filed comments urging the Service to finalize the listing and designate critical habitat for the Ozark hellbender.
We're also defending the eastern hellbender; in November 2014 the Center and a large coalition of allies filed a petition with New York to get the amphibian's eastern population in the state's Endangered Species list.
Happily, under the landmark agreement we reached with the Service to speed up protection decisions for 757 species — including the Ozark hellbender — the agency gave this incredible amphibian the “endangered” status it deserves in October 2011. In September 2013 it agreed to a binding deadline on a protection decision for the eastern hellbender, along with decisions for numerous other species.