Purdue leads $2.7 million USDA-funded conservation partnership

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has introduced $197 million for 41 domestically led conservation tasks by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

The Farmers Helping Hellbenders undertaking, led by Rod Williams, Purdue University professor of forestry and pure assets, and Nick Burgmeier, Purdue Extension wildlife specialist/Help the Hellbender undertaking coordinator, will obtain $2.7 million to enhance hellbender habitat in a four-county area in south central Indiana, the one remaining habitat for hellbenders within the state, by increasing using agricultural conservation practices to lower sedimentation in native rivers methods.

Fourteen contributing companions will help within the undertaking: Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Gardens, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District, Floyd County Soil and Water Conservation District, Harrison County Soil and Water Conservation District, Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District, Crawford County Cattleman’s Association, Harrison County Cattleman’s Association, Washington County Cattleman’s Association, Cryptobranchid Interest Group, The Nature Conservancy and Wallace Center at Winrock International.

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For a lot of the final 16 years, Williams and his crew have researched Eastern hellbenders, spearheading regional conservation efforts and advancing hellbender captive propagation – the rearing of this historic animal in captivity and their eventual return to the wild.

Sedimentation is a significant reason behind hellbender decline and diminished sedimentation will improve out there habitat for hellbenders, mussels and aquatic macroinvertebrates. This undertaking may even tackle soil and nutrient loss, additionally issues for agricultural producers. The focused conservation practices and methods have been proven to have long-term advantages for agricultural methods and operations.

“Through this initiative, centered on Crawford, Floyd, Harrison and Washington counties, we anticipate to enhance water high quality and aquatic wildlife habitat,” Burgmeier mentioned. “Simultaneously, we hope to enhance soil retention and nutrient availability to crops by serving to farmers implement practices resembling cowl crops, riparian buffers, grassed waterways, and so forth. Additional advantages will embrace will increase in riparian and pollinator habitat and elevated safety for karst habitat by the chosen focusing on of sinkholes.”

After 5 years of breeding efforts, Williams’ companions on the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana, efficiently bred Eastern hellbenders naturally in captivity in October 2020, signifying the end result of a protracted and collaborative effort to breed and restore this endangered species to its native surroundings.

“Wildlife conservation, as a science, is complicated,” Williams mentioned. “This RCPP undertaking builds upon 16 years of partnerships, from college researchers to Extension educators, zoos, nongovernmental organizations and state company professionals. Each accomplice brings a particular expertise, neighborhood asset, and keenness to Eastern hellbender conservation. This undertaking will spotlight how conservation professionals can pair with landowners to the good thing about all. We are very enthusiastic about shifting ahead.”


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Eastern hellbenders, the biggest salamanders in North America, breathe by capillaries close to the floor of their pores and skin, absorbing oxygen straight from the water. This requires high-quality streams, and the species has struggled to outlive after many years of declining water high quality and habitat degradation. 

Characterized by flat our bodies and heads and slimy, blotchy brown pores and skin with folds alongside the edges and lengthy tails, Eastern hellbenders stay in shallow, fast-flowing, cool, rocky rivers and streams throughout the United States from New York to Georgia and as far west as Missouri and Arkansas. At maturity, the species can measure roughly two ft lengthy.

Williams’ hellbender lab can be actively collaborating with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife in addition to a number of different companions throughout 13 states on conservation tasks and academic alternatives for academics and kids.

As a part of every undertaking, companions supply value-added contributions to amplify the impression of RCPP funding in an quantity equal to or better than the NRCS funding.

“RCPP places native companions within the driver’s seat to perform environmental objectives which might be most significant to their neighborhood.  Joining collectively private and non-private assets harnesses innovation that neither sector may implement alone,” Indiana NRCS State Conservationist Jerry Raynor mentioned. 

Media Contact: Maureen Manier, mmanier@purdue.edu
Source: Rod Williams, rodw@purdue.edu

Agricultural Communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Department Head, mmanier@purdue.edu

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