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Colorado State Amphibian

Western Tiger Salamander Ambystoma mavortium Adopted: March 16, 2012
Colorado state amphibian
Colorado State Amphibian: Western Tiger Salamander

According to State Representative Angela Williams, sponsor of 2012's House Bill No. 12-1147,

"...a teacher from Denver Public Schools, John Babiak, was instrumental in the amphibian campaign.

John Babiak's daughter, Larissa, referred to him as an environmental educator and credited him with sparking her interest in a project to designate an official amphibian to represent the State of Colorado.

Ninth grader Larissa said that, in 2011, her father showed her a worksheet and fact sheet about the western painted turtle from the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The western painted turtle is the official state reptile of Colorado and the page provided some background about the fourth graders (Skyline Elementary School, Denver) that made it so. Larissa thought that this was a great thing and, when she found that the state had no official amphibian, she decided to take action.

Larissa, her father, and her two brothers, Nick and Marko researched the amphibians of Colorado and finally decided that the western tiger salamander would be a good candidate, particularly because it was found in all 64 counties of the state from the 12,000 foot alpine tundra elevations to the eastern plains. Fossil digs also showed that the western tiger salamander's history stretches over 150,000 years in the state of Colorado.

They founded an organization called "Colorado for the Western Tiger Salamander" and created a FaceBook© page to promote their project.

The Babiaks' research into the legislative process further told them that they needed a legislative sponsor if the western tiger salamander was going to be named Colorado's official state amphibian. They contacted their local Representative, Angela Williams and explained their mission to her.

Rep. Williams was willing to come on board and laid down some guidelines for the process.

"I said OK. I'll run bill and I'll do all the work on the inside of the capital. But you have to do all the work on the outside of the capital. And they were very excited about it. One of the reasons I did that is I wanted them to be able to learn about the legislature."

Rep. Williams also took the time to find an initial sponsor in the Colorado Senate to secure the bill's passage in that chamber.

In the meantime, the Babiaks went about recruiting additional school children from across the state and subject experts to support the cause.

House Bill No. 12-1147 in the Colorado House of Representatives

The bill, House Bill No. 12-1147 (HB12-1147), was drafted and introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives on January 20, 2012. Rep. Williams commented

"This is such a great way to teach students by showing them how a bill becomes a law," Rep. Williams said. "Seeing their enthusiasm in the legislative process has been truly rewarding, and I hope the bill will continue on and the tiger salamander will soon be Colorado's state amphibian."

Upon introduction, HB12-1147 was assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee, where the it was scheduled for hearing on February 6, 2012.

Testimony in favor of the designation was provided by

  • Ninth grader and Nature Ranger Larissa Babiak, George Washington High School, Denver
  • Fifth grader and Nature Ranger Nick Babiak, Steck Elementary School, Denver
  • Dr. Richard Stucky, Curator of Paleoecology & Evolution at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • Fifth grader Avery Dell, Westerly Creek Elementary School
  • Sixth grader Ben Vagle, Stanley British Primary School, Denver
  • Denver Attorney Jason Crow, representing "Colorado for the Western Tiger Salamander"

Prior to official testimony, Second grader Nick Babiak circulated among the members of the committee introducing them to Tasha, the western tiger salamander.

Colorado state amphibian
Northern Leopard Frog

The bill was well received for the most part.

One member of the committee suggested that the Northern Leopard Frog might be a better choice in order to bring attention to it's declining numbers in the state. Comments regarding the leopard frog were not, however, promoted as a challenge to the western tiger salamander.

In fact, the children's research placed the northern leopard frog as a runner-up to the western tiger salamander but, in the end, was the frog was dismissed because it wasn't present in all 64 Colorado counties; only 58.

Other members of the committee seemed to think that designating a state amphibian had something to do with endangered species protections. They expressed concern that the designation might lead to an endangered species declaration that would impair commercial activities or development within the state sometime down the road. Though assured that their fears were unfounded and not relevant, their concerns persisted and resulted in a proposed amendment to the bill.

The declarative amendment read

SECTION 1. Legislative declaration. The general assembly hereby finds and declares that the designation of the western tiger salamander as state amphibian of the state of Colorado shall not stop, delay, otherwise impede a public or private construction project or agriculture activity from proceeding.

Though objections to the irrelevant amendment were voiced, the amendment was ultimately approved as it was not considered harmful to the intent of the legislation.

After all testimony was given, and the bill was recommended to the full House of Representatives by a vote of twelve to one, the committee chair had very nice things to say about the student presentations.

Testimony is closed. And let me say what an absolutely joy and great job was done by Larrisa, Marko, Avery, Ben, as well as the two adults. You two, four, did your homework and did very well and we're very proud and our country is in good hands if you prove and continue to be good leaders.

The students were encouraged when HB12-1147 was passed by the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee and responded with a hearty round of applause.

On February 13, 2012, House Bill No. 12-1147 passed by a vote in the full House of Representatives (51-12, 2 excused) and was forwarded to the Senate for its consideration.

Rep. Williams gave them this advice.

I said "OK, everything you did in the House of Representatives I want you to do on the Senate side."

The approval of the House committee appears to have prompted an editorial in the Loveland Reporter-Herald suggesting that the boreal toad would be a better candidate for state amphibian.

"This would have been a great opportunity for the children of the state to learn that the Division of Wildlife has worked in the past decade to stabilize the population of the boreal toad in the state, because the toads have been ravaged by the spread of a deadly fungus. By keeping the toads healthy, the state sees benefits to its fisheries and to mosquito control in an era of West Nile virus.

If ever a species native to Colorado could use a spot in the imagination of the state's children, it would be the boreal toad."

The editorial went largely unnoticed however and House Bill No. 12-1147 was forwarded to the Colorado Senate.

Amemded bill as forwarded to the Senate.

NOTE: The governor signed this measure on 3/16/2012.

Act graphic

HOUSE BILL 12-1147

BY REPRESENTATIVE(S) Williams A., Court, Fields, Hullinghorst, Kerr A., McCann, Schafer S., Solano, Todd, Wilson, Brown, Casso, Fischer, Hamner, Kagan, Labuda, Miklosi, Pabon, Ryden, Szabo, Tyler, Vigil, Young, Duran, McKinley, Pace, Peniston; also SENATOR(S) Foster, Guzman, Johnston, Spence, Tochtrop, Aguilar, Bacon, Boyd, Carroll, Giron, Grantham, Heath, King S., Morse, Roberts, Schwartz, White, Williams S.


Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Colorado:

SECTION 1. Legislative declaration. The general assembly hereby finds and declares that the designation of the western tiger salamander as state amphibian of the state of Colorado shall not stop, delay, otherwise impede a public or private construction project or agriculture activity from proceeding.

SECTION 2. In Colorado Revised Statutes, add 24-80-911.4 as follows:


SECTION 3. Act subject to petition - effective date. This act takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on the day following the expiration of the ninety-day period after final adjournment of the general assembly (August 8, 2012, if adjournment sine die is on May 9, 2012); except that, if a referendum petition is filed pursuant to section 1 (3) of article V of the state constitution against this act or an item, section, or part of this act within such period, then the act, item, section, or part will not take effect unless approved by the people at the general election to be held in November 2012 and, in such case, will take effect on the date of the official declaration of the vote thereon by the governor.

House Bill No. 12-1147 in the Senate

HB12-1147's initial hurdle in the Senate would be to gain recommendation from the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee so that it could be considered by the full Senate.

The Senate sponsor, Senator Joyce Foster, introduced the HB12-1147 to the Senate committee on February 23, 2012 with more than 100 students in attendance to support the bill. She opened the discussion stating

"This is my most favorite bill because it was put together by students."

Tasha, the western tiger salamander, was introduced to the members of the committee by Nick Babiak and testimony in support of the bill was provided by the four students who had testified to the House committee. They were joined this time by

  • Dr. Joseph Sertich, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • Stephen Meyer, self proclaimed businessman, citizen and voter, Denver

Senator Mike Johnston, who signed on as a co-sponsor of the HB12-1147, spoke most eloquently on his support for the bill.

Thank you Madame Chair. Well this is like a long unfulfilled dream for me being the co-sponsor of this bill. The first time I ever came into this building, was, I was like fourth or fifth or sixth grade, and I came with my class from school to lobby for the Colorado hairstreak as the state butterfly; which, by the way, it's a great name, it's the Colorado hairstreak, how can you beat that as a butterfly. I'm still trying to find the people who voted no on that day. But that was defeated. Some other opportunistic school came on a couple of years later and eventually actually passed the Colorado hairstreak as the state butterfly. But I want you to know it was our idea first. And so when Senator Foster came to me with some enterprising young students who were trying to get their start with the state amphibian, I was more than happy to lend a hand. I would ask for an aye vote because we don't want to crush these young children the way I was crushed when I was a young boy.

On another light note, one member of the committee suggested that there might be some Senate rule that Senator Foster must be able to correctly pronounce the scientific name of the western tiger salamander, Ambystoma mavortium, before the bill moved on.

In her closing remarks, prior to a committee vote, Sen. Foster thanked John Babiak, father to Larissa, Marko and Nick, for instilling a love of nature in his children.

The committee voted seven to zero in favor of moving the bill to the floor of the Senate for consideration and again a round of applause emanated from the crowd.

Less than a week later, on February 29, 2012, the Senate voted (34-0, 1 excused) in favor of granting the western tiger salamander the honored position of official amphibian of the state of Colorado.

On March 16, 2012, Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill No. 12-1147 making it official and remarking that the kids served as a model for others and had and "had changed the future of salamanders everywhere."


"C.R.S. 24-80-911.4 (2015)." Colorado Legal Resources. LexisNexis®, a Division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Williams, Angela. "House Bill No. 12-1147.." The State of Colorado. Colorado General Assembly. The State of Colorado, 2012. Web.

Additional Information

The Colorado State Amphibian: The Western Tigar Salamander enator Mike Johnston, in remarks on the Senate floor on Feb. 28, 2012, urging his colleagues to vote in favor of the Western Tiger salamander as the state amphibian.

Ambystoma mavortium: Caudata Culture: The information resource for newt and salamander enthusiasts.

Ambystoma mavortium: The University of California's Amphibiaweb.

Ambystoma mavortium (Barred Tiger Salamander) Also: Western Tiger Salamander: The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web.

Ambystoma mavortium - (Baird, 1850) Barred Tiger Salamander: A network connecting science with conservation - NatureServe Explorer: An Online Encyclopedia of Life.

Ambystoma mavortium Baird, 1850: Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) Here you will find authoritative taxonomic information on plants, animals, fungi, and microbes of North America and the world.

State amphibians: Complete list of official state amphibians from NETSTATE.COM

More symbols & emblems: Complete list of official Colorado state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.

What is an Amphibian? (The Science of Living Things) , by Bobbie Kalman and Jacqueline Langille, 32 pages, Crabtree Publishing Company (2000). Reading level: Ages 9-12. The large, full-color photographs and illustrations that pepper every page of these books will catch the eye of browsers but it is the informative, easy-to-read texts that will hold their interest.

Peterson First Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians , by Robert C. Stebbins, Joseph T. Collins and Roger Conant. Edited by Roger Tory Peterson. 128 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 15, 1999). From mudpuppies to rattlesnakes, this fascinating guide for young nature lovers describes the habits and habitats of these secretive and sometimes bizarre animals, and includes tips on how to catch and care for frogs, snakes, turtles, lizards, salamanders, and toads.

Salamanders of the United States and Canada: by James W. Petranka. 587 pages. Smithsonian; 1 edition (July 17, 1998) This survey of North American salamanders is the first since the 1940s and presents the most up-to-date research on every species. Beginning with two keys to help the reader identify an animal in the hand, whether it is an adult or a larva ("tadpole"), the book then discusses each species individually.

Newts and Salamanders: Everything About Selection, Care, Nutrition, Diseases, Breeding, and Behavior by Frank Indiviglio. 96 pages. Barron's Educational Series (June 1, 1997) Terrarium enthusiasts will find up-to-date information and full-color photos describing the major native and exotic species of newts and salamanders.

The author gives advice on feeding and keeping them in a healthful environment. Topics include creating the various types of habitats, nutrition, reproduction, the treatment of diseases, and sources of food and supplies.