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Help the Hellbender Lab Honored for Conservation Efforts

Dr. Rod Williams and the Help the Hellbender lab research team have earned three honors in 2023 for their work in conserving and advancing research and efforts toward the propagation of the endangered eastern hellbender.

On June 8, the team was honored by the Indiana Water Resources Association with its OutstandingHellbender husbandry coordinator with the team's Indiana Water Resources Association Outstanding Achievement Award Achievement Award, Academic Sector for Dr. Rod Williams’ work and association with the formation of the Help the Hellbender partnership. Hellbender husbandry lab coordinator Shelby Royal was on hand to accept the award on behalf of the lab. 

The IWRA outstanding achievement awards recognize individuals who have made significant contributions in the academic, private and public sectors with regard to:

  • Promoting research and technical, social, economic and legislative advances in all aspects of water resources
  • Collecting and disseminating water resource information through publications, symposia and other media
  • Relating the needs of management, educational and governmental institutions for specialized serves and guidance to qualified professionals
  • Initiating and maintaining lines of communication in the water resources community

In February, the group was honored with the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District’sHelp the Hellbender program coordinator Nick Burgmeier accepts the Friend of Conservation Award from the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District Friend of Conservation Award. Help the Hellbender program coordinator Nick Burgmeier accepted the honored on behalf of the lab. 

In March, the Indiana Hellbender Partnership was tabbed with the Budd Denneman Partners in Conservation Excellence award by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife to honor its outstanding conservation efforts. The Indiana Hellbender Partnership is a collaboration between the DNR and Purdue University with funding support from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and partners in local governments, universities, non-governmental organizations and zoos that are working to recover the state-endangered hellbender. The Indiana Hellbender Partnership is the largest and most comprehensive group working to recover an imperiled amphibian in Indiana.

For much of the last 17 years, Williams and his team have been researching eastern hellbenders, spearheading regional conservation efforts and advancing hellbender captive propagation, or the rearing of this ancient animal in captivity and their eventual return to the wild.

The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is a large, fully aquatic salamander, nicknamed the snot otter, water dog, devil dog, Allegheny alligator and water eel among other things.

Williams’ hellbender lab is actively collaborating with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy as well as several other partners across 13 states on a number of conservation projects and educational opportunities for teachers and childrenfarmers and more.

The “Farmers Helping Hellbenders” project, led by Williams and Purdue Extension wildlife specialist/Help the Hellbender project coordinator Nick Burgmeier, was selected in August 2022 to receive $2.7 million in funding through the RCCP Classic fund. The project aims to improve hellbender habitat in a four-county region in south central Indiana, the only remaining habitat for hellbenders in the state, by expanding the use of agricultural conservation practices that lead to decreased sedimentation in local rivers systems. Williams talks more about hellbenders and the project in this YouTube video.

In 2022, Williams and the Hellbender team received the Bayou Bill Conservation Award from the Hoosier Outdoor Writers Association.

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