Legal battle brewing over the iconic Florida flower, the ghost orchid

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Ghost orchid, Corkscrew Swamp, Florida. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News, 2009.

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Conservation groups in Florida have pleaded for official protection of one iconic flower native to Florida. Now, the groups are preparing to take legal action to force the U.S. government to protect it.

After agreeing that the flower was at risk of extinction, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed the deadline to finalize a decision on protecting the threatened ghost orchid, and now, three organizations are preparing to sue.

“This needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. And if we don’t get those protections, we are going to do everything we can to save the ghost orchid.”

Elise Bennett, director at the Center for Biological Diversity, is tired of waiting.

“The ghost orchid was found that it might warrant protections, and it was supposed to get a decision within a year of having filed the petition. Unfortunately, that’s not what the agency has done, and that leaves this species in legal limbo without any protections at all.”

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 they’re threatened by climate change.

The groups partnered with Stetson University’s law school to provide pro bono aid to the lawsuit. Jaclyn Lopez, head of the program, explained the process.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has received a 60-day notice of intent to sue, which means that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to come up with a plan for moving forward with listing the species. And if the agency isn’t able to do that or refuses to do that, then the next step for the plaintiffs is to file a complaint, in federal district court, where we will ask a judge to require, as a remedy for that violation, a timeline by which the agency will move forward.”

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service refused comment.

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