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Conservation and Restoration of the Eastern Hellbender

Conservation Innovation Award

Award Recipient

Kenneth Roblee - Sr. Wildlife Biologist at DEC's Region 9 Office in Buffalo, NY.

Summary of Accomplishments

DEC biologist holding an eastern hellbender
Award recipient, Kenneth Roblee,
with an eastern hellbender

The Amphibian and Reptile Atlas project revealed that eastern hellbenders, one of the largest salamanders in the world, appeared to be declining in the state. As a result, Mr. Kenneth Roblee conducted follow-up surveys to document distribution of hellbenders and attempted to estimate their numbers in the two primary watersheds where they are known to occur in New York: the Allegany River and Susquehanna River.

Kenneth Roblee succeeded in enlisting interest and support from Dr. Amy MacMillan, a geneticist at SUNY Buffalo State College. Working with Dr. MacMillan, two graduate students conducted population and habitat surveys in the two watersheds with guidance from Mr. Roblee. With information from these studies Mr. Roblee devised a plan for habitat restoration and a larvae head-start program. He worked with the Department of Transportation (DOT), who purchased and placed large, flat stones in streams to enhance breeding and nursery habitat.

Additionally, Kenneth applied for and received State Wildlife Grant funding to create a hellbender head-start project. The head-start contract was awarded to the Buffalo Zoo, who with Ken's assistance, collected eggs from the wild and has hatched them with extraordinarily high success. The Zoo is currently raising hellbenders for eventual re-release to enhanced habitat in the Allegany River system. Hatching and rearing have been so successful that the Buffalo Zoo has been able to transfer surplus hellbenders to other zoos, some for rearing for release and some for more permanent display. Media coverage of this project has generated tremendous interest in hellbender recovery throughout NY and beyond.

Through participation in the Reptile and Amphibian Atlas project, Mr. Kenneth Roblee became aware of a species in peril and followed through by collecting additional data to more clearly identify the problem, devising a plan for restoration, enlisting partners, seeking funding, implementing a solution (habitat restoration, head starting young) and enlisting public enthusiasm and support. This project is particularly noteworthy as innovative because of Ken's use of head-starting the young, and his creative engagement with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to help perform habitat restoration and enhancement in the river.

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