Newsroom Midwest Region

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 3, 2019

Contact:
Georgia Parham, 812-334-4261 x 203, Georgia_Parham@fws.gov

Missouri population of eastern hellbender proposed for endangered status

Other populations of this large salamander are in decline but do not currently warrant Endangered Species Act protection

After conducting a thorough species status review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that most populations of the eastern hellbender are not in danger of extinction and do not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the eastern hellbender population in Missouri is a distinct population segment (DPS) and the Service is proposing to list this DPS as endangered.

“Our review of the status of the eastern hellbender included input from states, academic partners and species experts,” said Charles Wooley, the Service’s acting Midwest Regional Director. “While Endangered Species Act protection is not warranted for most populations, we will continue to support partners in efforts to monitor and conserve eastern hellbenders throughout their range.”

Eastern hellbenders are found across 15 states: northeastern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, Tennessee, western North Carolina, western Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, eastern Illinois, southern Indiana, east-central Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, western Maryland and southern New York. The Service has identified the population in east-central Missouri as geographically and genetically distinct from the others, meriting separate consideration under the ESA.

The status assessment found that about 61 percent of the species’ historic populations remain, all of which are associated with large river drainages. Of the five historic populations in Missouri, none is considered healthy; four are declining and one is likely gone altogether. The threats affecting the Missouri eastern hellbender DPS are habitat destruction and modification from sedimentation and water quality degradation, disease and pathogens, and habitat disturbance. The unauthorized collection of eastern hellbenders, especially for the pet trade, also remains a concern.

The Service is concerned that identifying areas where eastern hellbenders may be found in Missouri may further exacerbate the threat of illegal collection. Consequently, we will not propose designating critical habitat for the population.

Hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America, growing up to two feet long. They can live up to 30 years and spend their entire lives in water, living in perennial streams and rivers of the southeastern and central United States. Hellbenders hide under large, flat rocks on the streambed. Male hellbenders guard eggs and tend to their young after they hatch.

The eastern hellbender is one of two subspecies of hellbenders in the United States. The other subspecies, the Ozark hellbender, occurs in Missouri and Arkansas and was listed as endangered in 2011.

The proposal to list the Missouri distinct population segment of the eastern hellbender will publish in the Federal Register on April 4, 2019. The public comment period for the proposed listing will be open for 60 days. Instructions on how to submit comments are available at regulations.gov under docket # FWS–R3–ES–2018–0056. Following the comment period, the Service will make a final listing determination regarding this matter.

Learn more about the eastern hellbender, the 12-month finding, or the proposal to list the Missouri distinct population segment.