US Sued for Dragging Its Feet on Rare Ghost Orchid Decision

'The world famous and critically imperiled ghost orchid is out of time'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 13, 2023 4:44 PM CDT
US Sued for Dragging Its Feet on Rare Ghost Orchid Decision
In this July 8, 2013 photo, a rare ghost orchid blooms in Charleston, W.Va.   (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, file)

The rare ghost orchid found mainly in Florida and Cuba should be immediately protected by the US as an endangered species, three environmental groups claimed Wednesday in a lawsuit arguing that federal officials are unduly delaying a decision. The lawsuit filed in Florida federal court contends the US Fish and Wildlife Service missed a January deadline on the orchid's status and now doesn't plan to make a decision until possibly late 2026, reports the AP. The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association.

"We regret that we must file this lawsuit, but the world famous and critically imperiled ghost orchid is out of time," said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. "Only the Endangered Species Act can provide both the deterrence against poaching and the resources needed to respond to growing threats from hurricanes, invasive species, and counterproductive management decisions such as increased oil exploration."

According to the lawsuit, the ghost orchid population has declined by more than 90% globally and by up to 50% in Florida, with only about 1,500 plants remaining in Florida. One factor is the orchids are stolen by thieves because of their rarity and beauty, which was chronicled in Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief and made into the Adaptation film. The plants are often sold online. The lawsuit puts their attraction this way: "The roots and short stem of the orchid are so well camouflaged on trees that the white flower may seem to float in mid-air, hence the name ghost orchid."

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Hurricanes such as Ian, which barreled into southwest Florida in 2022, have contributed to the loss of orchids, the environmental groups say. Sea level rise and wildfires worsened by climate change is another threat, they say. The lawsuit seeks to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to make an endangered species decision on the ghost orchid within a 12-month timeline, which the environmental groups say it has already missed. "Delaying protections will make it that much harder to draw ghost orchids back from the brink of extinction," said attorney Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These spirits of the swamp need all the help they can get."

(Read more orchid stories.)

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