The Snot Otter wins as Pennsylvania’s official amphibian

Pennsylvania lawmakers have approved the eastern hellbender, also known as the snot otter, mud devil and by other not-so-flattering names, as the state of Pennsylvania’s official amphibian. The hellbender is a giant salamander that is covered in a layer of mucus. Though it looks unappealing, the salamander plays an important role in the ecosystem. The hellbender is particularly susceptible to polluted water and acts as a bioindicator of an ecosystem’s overall health. Once common throughout the eastern U.S., the animal’s numbers have dwindled. Just last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to grant protections to the eastern hellbender under the Endangered Species Act.

Hiking and picnic areas are open along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Officials with the Blue Ridge Parkway say that they are on track to open all campgrounds and picnic areas along the popular road despite time lost during the government shutdown. “We’re in good shape for the upcoming season,” parkway spokesperson Leesa Brandon told the Asheville Citizen-Times. A few of the facilities along the parkway, such as Crabtree Falls and Mount Pisgah campgrounds, will open about two weeks later than usual—around May 17. Linville Falls Campground opened at its usual time in early April and the entire 469-mile parkway is now open to vehicle traffic.

Mines on the North Toe River are up for renewal

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources (DWR) is proposing to renew six draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System wastewater permits for mining facilities in Avery and Mitchell counties. DWR has extended the public comment period on the draft permits until May 3, 2019 and a public hearing on all six of the draft permits is scheduled for May 2, 2019 at 6pm at the Mitchell Senior Center in Bakersville, N.C.

Loved by anglers, paddlers and swimmers, the North Toe is considered an impaired river by the North Carolina DEQ. Last July, the North Toe closed to the public after a hydrofluoric acid spill from a mine caused a fish kill. DWR has indicated that they will consider all comments received by May 3 before making its final decision. Public comments may also be submitted by email to publiccomments@ncdenr.gov. When submitting an email, make sure to write “North Toe Mines” in the email subject line.