Engaging North Carolina's Trout Anglers and Other Stakeholders to Help Conserve Eastern Hellbenders

The eastern hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is a protected species of concern in North Carolina as well as in several other states. Despite long-term efforts by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and cooperating partners to improve understanding of hellbender status in the state, census of all known and potential populations is lacking. The species’ dependence upon clean, cold, well-oxygenated water restricts its distribution to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Ecoregion, overlapping much of the state’s trout fishery. This overlap presented an opportunity for the NCWRC to educate trout anglers about hellbender conservation while also offering a chance to supplement existing data of the spatial and temporal distribution of the salamander by enlisting angler help. In 2013, an advertisement within the Public Mountain Trout Waters’ portion of the North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest initiated direct outreach on hellbender conservation needs to trout anglers. This advertisement complemented NCWRC’s summer 2007–summer 2017 outreach efforts to a variety of stakeholders including anglers, recreationists, and landowners that included posters, streamside signage, in-person programming and information tables, popular articles, and a nine-minute online documentary. These combined efforts resulted in 207 hellbender encounter reports from stakeholders, with 127 specifically from anglers. These data represent observations in 56 streams across 17 counties, with seven reports from waters that lacked previous knowledge of hell- bender occurrence. Reports originated both from private (n = 117) and public land (n = 90). The encounter method reported most often was incidental observation (n=165). Much work remains relative to hellbender conservation, but managers should consider exploring similar resource overlaps to collect valuable distribution data, help prioritize locations for monitoring efforts, and promote conservation messages.

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