Published since 1946
USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program Adds to Efforts to Restore Eastern Hellbender
We reported on the first natural reproduction of eastern hellbenders in captivity (ONB Dec 2020) as a major step forward in conservation of this species. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that their Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) will contribute $2.7 million to improve hellbender habitat in a four-county region in south central Indiana, the only remaining habitat for hellbenders in the state.
The Farmers Helping Hellbenders project, led by Rod Williams, Purdue professor of forestry and natural resources, and Purdue Extension wildlife specialist/Help the Hellbender project coordinator Nick Burgmeier, will receive the $2.7 million to improve hellbender habitat by expanding the use of agricultural conservation practices to decrease sedimentation in local river systems.
Sedimentation is a major cause of hellbender decline and reduced sedimentation will increase available habitat for hellbenders, mussels, and aquatic macroinvertebrates. This project will also address soil and nutrient loss, also concerns for agricultural producers. The targeted conservation practices and systems have been shown to have long-term benefits for agricultural systems and operations.
Fourteen contributing partners will assist in the project: Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Gardens; Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo; Indianapolis Zoo; Indiana Department of Environmental Management; Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District; Floyd County Soil and Water Conservation District; Harrison County Soil and Water Conservation District; Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District; Crawford County Cattleman’s Association; Harrison County Cattleman’s Association; Washington County Cattleman’s Association; Cryptobranchid Interest Group, The Nature Conservancy, and; Wallace Center at Winrock International. As part of each project, partners offer value-added contributions to amplify the impact of RCPP funding in an amount equal to or greater than the NRCS investment. Private landowners can apply to participate in an RCPP project in their region through awarded partners or at their local USDA service center.
Eastern hellbenders, the largest salamanders in North America, breathe through capillaries near the surface of their skin, absorbing oxygen directly from the water. This requires high quality streams and the species has struggled to survive after decades of declining water quality and habitat degradation.
Characterized by flat bodies and heads, slimy blotchy brown skin with folds along the sides and long tails, eastern hellbenders live in shallow, fast-flowing, cool, rocky rivers and streams across the United States from New York to Georgia and as far west as Missouri and Arkansas. At maturity, the species can measure approximately two feet long.