Federal Foot-Dragging Imperils Flower-Loving Fly, Lawsuit Says

San Joaquin Valley giant flower-loving fly, the size of a small hummingbird and just as fond of flowers. (Greg Ballmer)

(CN) – Two federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by delaying a decision on whether to extend protections to the San Joaquin Valley giant flower-loving fly, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to list the fly as “endangered” or “threatened” by a June 11, 2015, deadline, according to the complaint filed in the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The failure to list a determination by the deadline “deprives the Fly of statutory protections that are vitally necessary to the species’ survival and recovery,” the group says in its lawsuit.

Neither agency responded to requests for comment by press time.

Close in size to a small hummingbird, the flower-loving insect has been wiped out in more than 99 percent of its former habitats. About 15 miles east of Bakersfield, only one population remains but is under “immediate threat of extinction” from sand mining operations that can lead to habitat loss and degradation, the center said in a statement issued Friday.

The insect will go extinct in the near future unless it receives habitat protection and recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act, according to Chris Nagano, a center biologist.

“There may be just a few hundred left,” Nagano said.

The San Joaquin giant flower-loving fly acts like a stealth fighter jet and “can hover in mid-air and then instantly fly away at speeds difficult for the human eye to follow,” according to the center. Detailed studies of the high-speed, aerobatic flight – and structure of the eyes of a similar insect – led to advances in the U.S. Air Force’s missile-tracking systems, the statement said.

The species plays a critical role in its San Joaquin Valley sand dune ecosystem, serving as food for birds and other predators and feeding on other invertebrates during its early stages.

“The giant flower-loving fly is one of a number of insects in the United States that are in imminent danger of extinction,” Nagano said. “[The fly’s extinction] may have far-reaching impacts on people.”

The fly, rhaphiomidas trochilus, was first identified needing federal protection by Fish and Wildlife in 1991.

Two California entomologists petitioned for emergency protection of the fly in June 2014. Fish and Wildlife determined in April 2015 that protection may be warranted, but it has failed to either propose or deny listing.

The decision is now nearly three years overdue.

Under the Endangered Species Act, protections are extended to endangered and threatened species with “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value” to the United States.

If the Service concludes that listing a species as endangered or threatened is warranted, it must publish notice of the proposed regulation for public comment. The agency must make its final determination within a year of proposing the regulation.

An April 18 letter by the defendants acknowledged the center’s Feb. 22 notice to sue but “did not remedy their continuing ESA violation” by the time Friday’s complaint was filed, the center said.

The group seeks a court declaration that Fish and Wildlife and Zinke violated mandatory deadlines under the Endangered Species Act, and an order that the agencies publish the overdue listing by a date determined by the court.

In-house attorneys Ryan Adair Shannon and Amy Atwood filed the lawsuit on behalf of the center.

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