Ozark hellbender in the hands of a researcher.

Ozark Hellbender Salamander (Endangered Species)

Photograph Attribution: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental Review Workshop

The Ozarks Hellbender: Urgent Call for Conservation Rethink

For Immediate Release: Thursday, January 21, 2021

Contact: Dave Ellerby – Senior Reviewer Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: www.enreview.org

Today, the Environmental Review Workshop raised concerns about a proposed Hellbender conservation plan from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Background Hellbenders (sometimes called snot otters) are among the largest salamanders in the world. Their numbers and range in the Ozarks are declining, and extinction is fast approaching if action isn’t taken.

The Endangered Species Act requires the development of recovery plans for endangered species. These should clearly describe the plan of action and how its effectiveness will be measured. The US Fish and Wildlife Service published a plan for 30 days of public comment in late December.

Unfortunately, comment periods can pass unnoticed or without input from independent experts. This is where the Environmental Review Workshop steps in. We are unaffiliated scientists with environmental technical expertise. We monitor federal and state databases for projects open for comment and assemble teams of specialists to give feedback.

USFWS Draft Plan and Environmental Workshop Concerns

The plan’s goals are

(1) to restore Hellbender habitat in the North Fork White River, Eleven Point River, and Current River, and

(2) to establish and maintain Hellbender numbers in these habitats.

Our reviewers identified several concerns, mostly relating to the lack of detail in the plan:

• It’s not clear from the plan how habitat will be restored, water quality improved, or salamander disease problems addressed.

• Hellbenders haven’t been fully counted since 2013, so how will the USFWS know if their plan works?

• The breakdown of how the $7 million budget will be spent lacks detail.

• Brown trout feed on baby salamanders and trout stocking should be reconsidered as part of the plan.

• Hellbenders sometimes turn up for illegal sale in pet stores; the plan should properly monitor this.

• The plan should do more to identify pollution sources and measure temperature more widely (Hellbenders like cool water near springs).

Further Information:

Comments from Environmental Review Workshop: http://www.envreview.org/index.php/arkansas/243-1-18-21-request-for-extension-of-public-comment-period-for-the-ozarks-hellbender-recovery-plan-endangered-species

USFWS Recovery Plan: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/FWS-R3-ES-2019-0101-0003

Fish & Wildlife Service Hellbender Fact Sheet: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/amphibians/ozhe/index.html