New Clean Water Violations on Loyalsock Should Spark Change Through Improved Protection From Hellbenders | News, Sports, Jobs

PROVIDED PHOTO In this 2019 photo by Michael Kinney, a master of hell maneuvers at the bottom of a local stream.

In a climactic scene from the 2009 film “Save a life,” a teenager challenges a sense of apathy among his youth group after the suicide of a bullied friend by emphatically posing a question to the group:

“What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?”

The scene and specifically this question came to mind recently as I walked into the office of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association and glanced at a tangled print celebrating the 2018 River of the Year recipient – Loyalsock Creek.

I found myself returning to the question a few hours later while watching a 2019 press release from Governor Tom Wolf’s office. At the top of the story is a photo of Governor Wolf proudly sporting a Hellbender Defender T-shirt and surrounded by a group of cheering students at the signing of Senate Bill 9, which officially named the Master of Eastern Hell our state amphibian.

What’s the point of these kinds of public activities if we don’t really let them change us and how we impact the environment?

It’s important to raise awareness, to let people know that we care about a certain topic, waterway, or species in the same way it’s important to validate someone who feels on edge. breathless, worthless and beleaguered by bullies or other seemingly inescapable trials and tribulations.

Of course, words and promises go no further. Our actions after this recognition – or lack thereof – speak much louder.

New Offenses

Earlier this month, Loyalsock Creek and the Eastern Hellbender received a new black eye.

The Department of Environmental Protection has identified several Clean Stream Law violations involving excessive sedimentation at a site where Pennsylvania General Energy is installing a pipeline under the creek and slopes on either side. These offenses include “Failure to meet erosion and sediment control requirements and to plan land disturbance activities to minimize their impact.

Concerns about sedimentation in this stretch of creek predate the flooding incidents in early September that ultimately triggered the DEP inspection of the site.

“I was doing dive research on the Loyalsock one day in August,” recalled Dr. Peter Petokas, an expert on the Eastern Hellbender. “When I entered, at first the water looked clean, but after only about an hour of diving, the water was completely cloudy. I couldn’t see anything.

Excessive sedimentation can completely wipe out the habitat necessary for the survival of hellbenders, according to Petokas, which he added can be of two types.

“There are cracks in the rock faces which may not appear to be important habitat, but the rock faces act as checks for flows in streams,” said Petokas. “When water hits the walls, it digs a deep channel, and this channel is a favorite haunt of the masters of hell.”

Some hellbenders reside in these cracks in the walls, some use large rock structures at the bottom of streams, he added.

In cases where there is construction along a creek that does not meet erosion guidelines, “that sedimentation literally buries rock structures at the bottom of streams and fills in the interstitial spaces of the rock. For example, there is a specific habitat for the masters of hell that we have been studying since 2006 that no longer exists due to this process of infilling with fine sediment and sand.

While some human activity along our streams may be unavoidable, Petokas suggests that there are ways to do these activities that promote healthy stream flow and reduce sedimentation problems.

“Instead of leveling a stream, which makes it shallow and slows it down, create a rock chain which makes the channel deeper and faster,” said Petokas. “There are ways to plan these projects that can help create habitat instead of destroying it.”

A decision that would trigger a more proactive process about how we interact with waterways such as the Loyalsock and other creeks that may harbor the master of hell is to reconsider the status of the species in our state. .

State agencies should be doing more to address activity on some of these waterways, but don’t because the master of hell is not considered a threatened or endangered species,” said Petokas. “At the moment it’s just a ‘species of concern’ that doesn’t create any real change outside of the no-take rule.”

The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association has joined several other groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association in challenging the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny species law protections. endangered to the master of the eastern hell.

“The ruler of hell is a sentinel for clean, flowing waters and that habitat is sadly getting harder and harder to find,” said Brian Segee, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Program. “The protections will give the master of hell a fighting chance by prohibiting actions that kill or harm him, requiring government decision-makers to consider the impacts of their actions on the species, designating a critical habitat and allocating greater funding to the master of hell’s conservation efforts.”

One of the barriers at the federal level is that there are few populations of the species that are “a little ok” in a few places across the country, according to Petokas, but that’s not the case in Pennsylvania and especially in the Susquehanna River Basin.

“As a scientist working in this watershed, I know that this animal is almost extinct – it can only be found in very few remote places, which to me suggests it should be considered at least threatened statewide, and most likely endangered,” said Petokas.

And now?

Many years have passed since public declarations that Loyalsock Creek and the Eastern Hellmaster deserve our attention and increased protective measures, yet the threats to both are still very real.

May recent issues on the Loyalsock renew our promises to strengthen our protections of these resources. I would suggest that it realistically start with a reconsideration of the statewide designation of the Eastern Hellmaster.

In the 2019 press release on the (then) Hellmaster’s new role as a state amphibian, Governor Wolf shared the following comment:

“Today’s ceremony is more than a statement from a state amphibian official. It’s about reaffirming our commitment to protecting our waters in Pennsylvania. Clean water is essential to the master of the hell and we must continue to do our part to improve water quality in the Commonwealth so that the state’s first amphibian can thrive.

I urge you, Governor Wolf, in your final months in office, to fulfill your commitment as Hellbender Defender by speeding up the process of real protection under threatened or endangered status – something that will have a greater ripple effect for “improving water quality in the commonwealth” far beyond the master of hell himself.

Otherwise, what’s the point of it all if we’re not going to let it change us for the better?

The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association serves an 11,000 square mile watershed of the Susquehanna River, including Sullivan, Lycoming, Clinton, Union, and Northumberland counties. To learn more, visit

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