Seneca Nation of Indians


hellbender facility

What is a Hellbender? The Eastern Hellbender is the largest salamander in North America.  In New York State, it only occurs in the Allegany and Susquehanna River drainages.  With a flat body, short stout legs, and very small beady eyes, hellbenders are well adapted to living under large flat rocks, stream banks or debris in swift flowing streams.  Under the cover of darkness, they leave their shelters to prey on crayfish, worms, fish, or carrion.  Although the larvae lose their external gills at about two years, hellbenders remain fully aquatic throughout their lives, never leaving the water.  Adults may live 70 years, and reach sexual maturity at five to eight years of age. 

History - Populations of the Eastern Hellbender appear to be declining in New York State as evidenced by recent surveys in the Allegany and Susquehanna drainages. The Allegany River within the Seneca Nation Territory comprises a significant portion of the remaining habitat of the upper Allegany River. 

Adult Hellbender Release in the Allegany Watershed

October 2011 in Salamanca, NY


To develop and operate a Hellbender Rearing Facility.  The Rearing Program will release 90 to 150 juveniles (4 years old) hellbenders into the Allegany Watershed. While maintaining the hatching facilities, Conservation Staff will determine the best release sites for the head started individual hellbenders, ensure head started hellbenders are disease and parasite free before their released into the watershed. 

Several factors of the head starting process should be continually monitored for individual growth and feeding.  Simulated habitat, including microhabitat for larval/juvenile hellbenders will be constructed.  Water quality parameters in vitro and radio-tag a subset of head started individuals to determine survivorship, habitat usage and natural history parameters.  The Conservation Department will also create a standardized sampling method and survey techniques such as night-lighting, baited traps, rock turning, bank searching, leaf litterbags.  Investigate SCUBA/snorkeling as effective sampling methodology.  Use scopes to search out and research nest rocks without disturbing the hellbenders or eggs.  Establish and manage sampling protocols to be utilized throughout the Seneca Nation.

Provide Conservation Staff a standardized data collection sheet and encourage outer agency researchers to submit their data to the Seneca Nation Conservation Department.  Provide guidelines to follow on how to trap, decontaminate gear, and record data. Analyze data returned from surveyors.  Track and record data on individuals within a population throughout the entire rearing program, then compile baseline data from the surveys, manage and monitor larval and juvenile age-classes.  Also closely monitor the larval and juveniles in the rearing facility.  Radio tag head started individuals to provide missing data for these age-classes, utilize monitoring data to help explain the apparent low recruitment rate for these age-classes and the likelihood it is caused by a limited number of large cover rocks.  Continue to monitor the populations to determine the effect of research manipulation in the lotic system.

Manipulation effect is especially important in regards to turning nest rocks. Provide hellbenders with quality habitat through management and research and provide the species its best opportunity to persist in the Allegany River system.  The SNI Conservation Department will develop project guidelines for work sites that are near hellbender habitat so DOT can minimize how hellbender habitats are impacted, example Center St. Bridge replacement.  Monitor and manage water quality parameters (heavy metals, contaminants, pesticides, sedimentation, turbidity, salinity, etc.) across the Allegany watershed and around hellbender habitat.  Increase public awareness about hellbenders in an effort to aid in their protection.

Develop an outreach program for the community. Promote best management practices to communities and landowners of agriculture, residential, or commercial property.  Involve and educate the public on species and its habitat.  Work with local fishermen, place species fact sheets at sporting good stores; educate the community members and interested youth.  Create signage depicting hellbenders and popular game fish at select sites. Provide the eastern hellbender legal protection in order to minimize the loss of individuals from preventable sources.  Law enforcement can be added sites into their daily routes to be monitored for trespassers or suspicious activities. 

Benefits - The benefit of this project to the environment is one of balance between a native species and its environment. The Conservation Department believes that over time as the Hellbender population changes then the ecosystem will also change. If activities and conditions (as occurring today) continue to erode, then the native environment and the complex ecosystem and its habitats will change. It is our objective to use a native species of Hellbender to repopulate our river systems.  The Conservation Department applies this theory to a broad spectrum of species besides hellbenders; the walleye reared will also be native fish from our native waters. The projection will be and should be applied to all species when the opportunity presents itself. This project is designed to prevent the introduction of a non-native species into the environment thus aiding in the effort to maintain as natural a balance as possible between species and the environment.  To help ensure the success of the Hellbender Rearing Program, it has been determined by the Conservation Department and Biologists that the release of the Hellbender is to be of a specific size to help with mortality.  The human benefit of this program is that the local Hellbender has long provided a sense of purity to the people of the Seneca Nation with regards to its environment and state of its ecosystems health. In addition, Hellbender’s historically have been and continues to be significant to members of the Tribe, being that the Allegany Territory is the ONLY Indian Territory to have a hellbender population. 

The Seneca Nation Hellbender Rearing Facility is located at 3689 Center Rd. Allegany Indian Territory.  The facility is operated by the Allegany Fish & Wildlife Department.  The Facility is open to the public, groups, schools, organizations by appointment only. 

For any questions or appointments, please contact the Allegany Conservation Office at