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Legislator praised for conservation efforts

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Recognized for his role in attaining the designation for the Eastern Hellbender salamander as the state amphibian, Senator Gene Yaw was presented with a carving of a hellbender at Lycoming College on Friday. Making the presentation from left are; Emma Stone, Lenka Platt and Andrew Waldman for the PA Student Leadership Council a program of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, in collaboration with the Student Leadership Council of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Lycoming College’s Clean Water Institute, passed the bill to name the Eastern Hellbender as the state’s official amphibian and celebrated in honor of the new symbol at Lycoming College on Friday night.

“Today we are here to recognize him (Yaw), for his leadership for passing legislation for the Eastern Hellbender as the state amphibian,” Kente Trachte, president of Lycoming College, said. “This is also a time to applaud the impressive efforts of the student leadership council at the CBF for advocating for this important legislature.”

“Their inquisitiveness and ultimately their passion was clearly evident when they came to me to approach the legislature,” Harry Campbell, state executive director of CBF, said. “They (the students) identified the fact that we didn’t have one (a state amphibian). This was a phenomenal idea; making this about educating people about what is in their backyard and how it connects to clean water across the Commonwealth. The Hellbender can be an indicator of clean water.”

He added that engaging Yaw in the decision came with “trials and tribulations” but that the passion and energy that the students had about this collaboration brought the bill to ultimately pass in the spring.

“These students with the Clean Water Institute and Senator Yaw took the knowledge and converted it into energy and passion and now we have the Eastern Hellbender as the state amphibian,” Campbell said.

Lenka Platt, student leadership council president, added that this passed bill meant more than just having a state amphibian.

“Pennsylvania is known for its large number of rivers and streams,” she said. “The Hellbender Bill helped raise awareness to protect these water ways. The Hellbender needs cool, clean water to survive. We are all so thankful that Senator Yaw agreed with us. Senator Yaw showed us how we (students) can make an impact.”

Platt along with Emma Stone, former student leadership council president, and the CBF presented Yaw with a carved Eastern Hellbender for his efforts.

Dr. Peter Petokas and Dr. Mel Zimmerman of the Clean Water Institute at Lycoming College added to the event by speaking about their research to restore the Hellbender population with the students.

“After learning this animal (Hellbender) was in decline and not doing well, I decided to embark in some conservation efforts,” Petokas said.

He got together with the CBF and high school students to put together artificial habitats for the Hellbenders in New York. They have collaborated on many efforts to increase the population of the species and has provided support for the group in an attempt to increase awareness of the population.

“They came in and sat around the table and they were so enthusiastic about it,” Yaw said. “I said ‘there really is something here.’ What better symbol could we have for clean water in pennsylvania then the Hellbender? After that I got support behind it.”

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