Missouri hellbenders population granted federal protection
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A salamander species that lives in Missouri waterways has been granted protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Missouri’s eastern hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America, growing to more than 2 feet in length. The amphibians can be found in the Meramec River and its tributaries, as well as watersheds in south-central parts of the state, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The agency’s designation means that the state’s population, which is geographically isolated from other species in the eastern U.S., is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The state has only several hundred of them remaining in the wild.
“The declines are more severe in Missouri,” said Karen Herrington, a USFWS field supervisor based in Columbia, Missouri.
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity called the protection for the species in Missouri a positive step, but contended its populations also face challenges across its range from dam construction, sedimentation, disease, habitat destruction and climate change.
“Hellbenders desperately need the protections of the Endangered Species Act not only in Missouri, but everywhere they’re found,” said Brian Segee, the center’s senior attorney.