Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 31, 2023

Contact:

Tina L. Pugliese, APR (with The Institute for Regional Conservation), (561) 889-3575, Tina@PugliesePR.com Elise Bennett, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 755-6950, ebennett@biologicaldiversity.org
Kyle Groetzinger, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 893-3391, kgroetzinger@npca.org

Federal Officials Miss Deadline to Protect Ghost Orchid As Endangered

Decision Delayed Despite Ongoing Florida Poaching Threat

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has missed the statutory deadline to make a decision on protecting the iconic ghost orchid, leaving the species in a regulatory limbo without crucial safeguards. The deadline was Jan. 24, but currently the Service is not scheduled to make a decision until 2026.

This delay comes as two people allegedly took a ghost orchid, and other rare orchids and air plants, from Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park late last year. In an incident report, law-enforcement officials described finding a machete and a bag filled with more than 30 rare and endangered plants. The poaching incident highlights why the famed and highly imperiled ghost orchid urgently needs to be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“This is a most urgent matter that must not be pushed down the road,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “We are deeply concerned about the growing impacts of poaching on ghost orchids and other rare plants in Florida, which make heighted protections imperative. Poaching has been identified as a key threat to the ghost orchid at the Fakahatchee, in Big Cypress National Preserve, and throughout South Florida.”

“This disastrous federal delay comes as the ghost orchid struggles to survive human greed and a multitude of other threats,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection is crucial to give this hauntingly beautiful orchid a fighting chance at beating extinction. For one thing, it would impose stronger penalties for poachers. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s foot-dragging is depriving the orchid of crucial protection.”

“The heartbreaking poaching incident makes one thing clear: Existing protections for ghost orchids are not enough to keep them safe from harm, and we need action now,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., Sun Coast regional director for The National Parks Conservation Association. “This tragic event, that happened inside a protected natural area no less, is a stark reminder of the threats facing nearly extinct ghost orchids and underscores the urgent need for Endangered Species Act protections. Only then will we have the tools to save this iconic species.”

Following a petition filed by The Institute for Regional Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the rare native orchid may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency initiated a status review to inform a final decision, which the agency was legally required to make last week.

The orchid is one of the most famous flowers in Florida, but its population has declined by more than 90% globally. Only an estimated 1,500 ghost orchid plants remain in Florida, and less than half are known to be mature enough to reproduce. Florida populations of ghost orchid have declined by up to 50%.

The best available science shows that the ghost orchid is at risk of extinction from multiple threats, including poaching, habitat loss and degradation, and the climate crisis.

The ghost orchid’s current limited range includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and additional conservation and tribal areas in Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee counties. It is also found in Cuba.

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Ghost orchid in Big Cypress, Fla. Credit: Tony Pernas. Image is available for media use.

A private nonprofit organization, The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) is dedicated to the protection, restoration, and long-term management of biodiversity on a regional basis, and to the prevention of local extinctions of rare plants, animals and ecosystems. Based in Florida, USA, IRC works on conservation research and action throughout South Florida, the Caribbean and beyond. Its vision is to unite people and nature to restore our world.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.7 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org

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