Group responds after Eastern Hellbender denied protection
WASHINGTON – The Center of Biological Diversity is accusing the Trump administration of “Utter Disdain” for the environment after the administration recently denied protections to the eastern hellbender, instead protecting a distinct population segment of hellbenders that makes up just one percent of the highly imperiled species. Eight other species were also denied protections.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. “This decision reeks of the Trump administration’s utter disdain for protecting our environment and the weird and wonderful creatures in it,” said Elise Bennett, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney working to protect reptiles and amphibians. “It flagrantly ignores the reality of the hellbender’s dire situation and gives these imperiled animals a big shove toward extinction.”
The hellbender is a fully aquatic salamander – the largest in North America – that has been steadily disappearing from streams in the eastern United States. The animals have been waiting for Endangered Species Act protection for more than eight years.
Seventy-eight percent of historically known hellbender populations have disappeared or are in decline. They face threats from chemical pollution and sedimentation caused by development, deforestation and dams.
The hellbender is particularly vulnerable to water contamination because of its permeable skin and sensitive eggs, which it lays in water.
Disease can also cause catastrophic loss of hellbenders. Emerging infectious diseases are on the rise, particularly among salamander populations, and hellbenders are showing symptoms of fungal infection across their range.
“The Trump administration made a clear choice to shrug off a species’ struggle against extinction,” said Bennett. “Saving the hellbender would also save rivers and streams that many Americans use, but denying protections puts all that at risk. There’s no question we’ll be carefully scrutinizing this one.”
The Trump administration also denied protection for eight other species, including two fish, a snail and three crayfish from the Southeast, the Chihuahua scurfpea and red-crowned parrot.
The administration has now denied protections for 55 species, while listing only sixteen under the Endangered Species Act. The Center is evaluating whether it will challenge the denial of protection for all of these species.
Known by colorful names like “devil dog,” “snot otter,” “grampus” and “Old Lasagna Sides,” the eastern hellbender can grow up to 2 feet long. Its nicknames reference the loose, frilly skin along its sides and the mucus-like secretions it expels when frightened. The hellbender lives in cool, free-flowing rivers and streams, where it hides under rocks to wait for passing prey.
The Center petitioned to protect the eastern hellbender under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. Today’s decision comes after two legal settlements the Center entered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 and 2013 to expedite protections.
Hellbender photo by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity