10:49 PM

For Immediate Release

Help for Hellbenders: Private Lands Conservation Program Includes Giant Appalachian Salamanders

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the addition of five new wildlife conservation projects to its Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, including one for the Southeastern hellbender. The hellbender, a large aquatic salamander native to several states throughout the Appalachian region, is struggling to survive habitat loss and degradation. The species was added to WLFW through the effort of the Southeastern Hellbender Conservation Initiative (SEHCI), a collaboration between Defenders of Wildlife, NRCS and other conservation partners to support farmers using conservation practices on their lands that help restore hellbender habitat.

Defenders of Wildlife Southeast Program Director Ben Prater issued this statement:

“This is a great day for the iconic hellbender. Private landowners play a vital role in protecting Appalachian rivers and streams and our natural heritage. The hellbender’s inclusion in the Working Lands for Wildlife program will help support and incentivize conservation practices on private lands in direct cooperation with landowners. This proactive and on-the-ground conservation work will ensure that our mountain streams remain sources of healthy habitat for these sensitive amphibians and hundreds of other species that call this region home.”

Defenders of Wildlife Southeast Program Representative Kat Diersen issued this statement:

“Collaboration is a vital part of wildlife conservation, especially here in the Southeast region. Hellbenders are a sensitive species that need clean, fast-flowing water to survive, and much of their habitat is on private lands. We look forward to continuing our work with landowners through the Southeastern Hellbender Conservation Initiative, and together will make sure hellbenders thrive in Appalachian waters for generations to come.”


About hellbenders:

  • The Southeastern hellbender has inhabited the rivers and streams of the eastern United States for around 65 million years. The largest North American salamander, it can grow to be over two feet long and live up to 30 years.
  • As a predator, adult hellbenders control the population size of crayfish, their primary food source. Because of its high sensitivity to pollution and siltation, it is also an important indicator species, with population declines providing early evidence of declining water quality.
  • Hellbenders were once widespread across much of the eastern U.S., and were particularly abundant in middle and eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. Degradation and fragmentation of habitat has led to drastic range-wide population declines. Development, dams and mining have all contributed to the loss of hellbender habitat, but perhaps no impact has been more severe than that of agriculture.
  • Unsustainable farming practices, nutrient and pesticide runoff, loss of riparian habitat along stream banks and erosion from livestock entering streams contribute significantly to water pollution and siltation that degrades formerly viable habitat. The plight of the hellbender is now so dire that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the species under the Endangered Species Act.

Southeastern Hellbender Conservation Initiative:

  • Defenders of Wildlife is working to help preserve and restore hellbender habitat by spearheading the Southeastern Hellbender Conservation Initiative (SEHCI), a long-term, multi-state initiative. Through SEHCI, we will bring together a large and diverse group of partners to invest in education, outreach, habitat restoration and monitoring on agricultural lands throughout the Southeast, including middle and east Tennessee, western North Carolina and western Virginia.
  • The goal of the SEHCI is to restore water quality and habitat by supporting landowners restoring riparian buffer zones, keeping their livestock away from streams and improving the soil quality on agricultural lands.
  • Adopting conservation practices to improve water and soil quality can benefit landowners as well as hellbenders. For example, practices that improve the quality of grazing lands and access to quality drinking water benefit overall herd health. Protecting stream banks can increase the acreage available for crop planting, and prevent erosion and potential risk to cattle, farm buildings and even homes.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.