Wednesday, February 6, 2019

House State Government Committee OKs Bill Recognizing Eastern Hellbender Sending It To Full House For Action

On February 6, the House State Government Committee voted 24 to 1 to approve and report out Senate Bill 9 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) designating the Eastern Hellbender as the state amphibian and clean water ambassador (sponsor summary).
Rep. Brett Miller (R-Lancaster) voted against the bill in Committee.  
Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the House State Government Committee, enthusiastically praised the students supporting the bill and passed out “Hellbender Defender” pins, temporary tattoos, and noted t-shirts were also available.
The bill now goes to the full House for action when it returns to voting session on February 19.
Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamander and survive where there is cold, clear, swift-running water. Growing to over two feet in length and weighing more than four pounds, they breathe oxygen from the water through their skin.
A lack of streamside trees along Commonwealth waterways allows waters to warm, polluted runoff to enter rivers and streams, and silt to build up in streambeds. As a result, habitat for hellbenders has been degraded and hellbender numbers have been decimated in Pennsylvania streams where they were plentiful as recently as 1990.
The bill just passed the Senate last Monday by a vote of 48 to 1.  Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) voted against the bill.  
Sen. Gene Yaw, prime sponsor of the bill and Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, attended the State Government Committee urging action on the bill.
When the bill passed the Senate, Sen. Yaw said--
“Because the Eastern Hellbender exemplifies what is good about Pennsylvania’s waterways, it is the perfect selection to become the official State Amphibian.  It is an excellent natural indicator of water quality, so, in effect, if you have hellbenders in your water the water quality most likely is very good. The hellbender will be a visible symbol of Pennsylvania’s commitment to clean water.”
“Even in times of budget crisis and pensions and everything else impacting Pennsylvania, this is something that showed the student sponsors of the bill that their elected officials do, indeed, listen to them.  They had a great idea and I was privileged to present their idea to the Senate on their behalf,” Sen. Yaw added.
“Clean water is important for humans and amphibians, and if we don’t act on making our waterways as clean as they can be, we will all suffer from it,” former Chesapeake Bay Foundation Student Leadership Council President Abby Hebenton said. “So, it’s important to bring awareness to it in a positive way, like with the hellbender, than deal with the repercussions later.”  
“The students have shown a remarkable amount of determination,” said Lane Whigham, CBF Outreach and Advocacy Manager in Pennsylvania. “Their desire to learn the Pennsylvania legislative process is second only to their sheer tenacity to raise awareness of the hellbender’s plight and the need for clean water. With students who share this level of dedication to Pennsylvania’s environment, I feel certain the future is in good hands.”
Peter Petokas, Ph.D., Amphibian Conservation Biologist at Lycoming College and faculty member of the College’s Clean Water Institute, applauded Senate action.  “Passage of Senate Bill 9 takes the Eastern Hellbender one step closer to the status of official amphibian of the State of Pennsylvania, a designation that it uniquely deserves and which will help promote conservation programs that protect and sustain the unique amphibian resources of the Commonwealth.”
Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5270 or sending email to:  Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-783-4944 or sending email to:
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