Press Release May 17, 2024

Legal Victory Speeds Protection Decision for Rare Ghost Orchid

NPCA's Melissa Abdo: "Today's legal victory is a step in the right direction, and we hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service makes the scientifically sound final decision to list this enigmatic orchid species.”

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to decide by June 1, 2025, whether to protect the imperiled ghost orchid. The agreement follows a lawsuit filed by The Institute for Regional Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association.

“We welcome the agreement to finally deliver a regulatory decision,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “The ghost orchid is hanging on by a thread and needs the full weight of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Endangered Species Act to survive and eventually recover to health.”

“Help is on the way for the hauntingly beautiful ghost orchid, and it can’t come soon enough,” said attorney Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered species protections would give these enchanting flowers the best shot at weathering climate change, poaching and other threats they face in the years ahead.”

“The ghost orchid has always been an elusive species, but in recent years, its population in the wild has plummeted. Due to a series of compounding threats like climate change, poaching, and habitat loss, Florida’s favorite flower is hanging on by a thread. Without federal endangered species protections, the ghost orchid’s days are numbered,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., Sun Coast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Today’s legal victory is a step in the right direction, and we hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service makes the scientifically sound final decision to list this enigmatic orchid species.”

“Floridians value their plants and wildlife because they know they are part of what makes Florida so special,” said Jaclyn Lopez, director of the Jacobs Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment at Stetson University College of Law. “The wild places where these captivating beauties grow will be even better protected once the Service lists the ghost orchid.”

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

The ghost orchid is at risk of extinction from multiple threats, including poaching, habitat loss and degradation and the climate crisis. Recently slammed by hurricanes Irma and Ian, the orchids faced above-normal Atlantic hurricane activity last year due to record-warm sea surface temperatures, resulting in the fourth-most active storm season since 1950. Weather experts currently expect another active Atlantic hurricane season in 2024.

Threats to the orchid continue to grow. In late 2022 two people were caught stealing a ghost orchid and other rare plants from Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Meanwhile, in Big Cypress National Preserve, proposals to drill for oil and to expand off-road vehicle access threaten the ghost orchid’s sensitive habitat.

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. The orchids are found in Cuba as well, where they’re also critically threatened.

Following a petition filed by The Institute for Regional Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association, the 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 in January 2023 but failed to complete.

The conservation groups are represented by the Jacobs Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment at Stetson University College of Law.

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Partner media contacts:

Tina L. Pugliese, The Institute for Regional Conservation, (561) 889-3575, Tina@PugliesePR.com

Elise Bennett, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 755-6950, ebennett@biologicaldiversity.org

Jaclyn Lopez, Jacobs Law Clinic, (727) 490-9190, jmlopez@law.stetson.edu

About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.6 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.

About the Institute for Regional Conservation: A private non-profit 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.

About The Center for Biological Diversity: 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.

About the Jacobs Law Clinic: Recognizing that the health of our environment and of our communities are inextricably linked, and entirely dependent on a functioning and just democracy, the Jacobs Law Clinic pursues and defends justice through advocacy focused on Florida’s most pressing environmental issues.

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