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Famed Ghost Orchid Moves One Step Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.— OCTOBER 19, 2022, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday that it will consider granting Endangered Species Act protection to the ghost orchid, a critically endangered flower. Under federal law, the agency now has until January 2023 to make a decision.

Today’s finding comes in response to a petition filed by The Institute for Regional Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the National Parks Conservation Association. The petition argued that the agency should add the rare native orchid to the endangered species list and designate critical habitat, which is essential to its survival and recovery.

The ghost orchid is at risk of extinction from multiple threats, including poaching, habitat loss and degradation, and the climate crisis. Its population has declined by more than 90% globally, and there were only an estimated 1,500 ghost orchid plants left in Florida in early 2022.

“We are grateful that the Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that our petition has merit and will move forward with the process of review for federal listing,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “The ghost orchid has suffered a long decline in southern Florida and Cuba, in part due to its immense popularity, and federal protection will help us not only to save this icon of beauty from extinction but allow for recovery work to commence. Preventing extinction is the lowest conservation bar; our goal must be full recovery.”

“The ghost orchid is a testament to how biodiversity can have a monumental impact on our collective spirit and imagination,” said Elise Bennett, deputy Florida director and attorney at the Center. “Its rare and cryptic beauty has captivated authors, photographers and filmmakers alike. I really hope federal officials make haste and protect this gorgeous specter of our swamps before it’s too late.”

“I still remember the first time I saw a ghost orchid. I was waist-deep in a swamp in the heart of the Everglades and spotted one woven around a tree trunk. I had spent six months searching while researching the plant life throughout the ‘Glades. It was a moment I will never forget,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., Sun Coast Regional Director for The National Parks Conservation Association. “I understand the pull this beautiful, rare plant species has on people, but its popularity comes at a steep price. Recent upticks in ghost orchid poaching have left the species in serious peril, with fewer than 750 mature orchids left in the wild. Climate change, draining of wetlands, and rampant development have also contributed to this sharp decline in an already hard-to-find species. That is why I am relieved that the Fish and Wildlife Service has chosen to consider listing the ghost orchid under the federal Endangered Species Act. It deserves nothing less than the full federal protections necessary to keep this species alive and thriving.”

The ghost orchid’s current range in Florida 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. While the full extent of Hurricane Ian’s impact on ghost orchids in Florida and Cuba is not yet known, strong hurricanes have reduced orchid numbers in the recent past.

The conservation organizations will remain closely engaged in the listing process to support the strongest protections under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the ghost orchid recovers.

An emblem of the fragile beauty and rich biodiversity found in Florida, the ghost orchid was featured in Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage.

...

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

Restoration Work at Simpson Park

IRC's Ecological Restoration crew has been conducting “strike team tactics” aimed at restoring the canopy of the historic Simpson Park in the City of Miami. This important remnant of the once great Brickell Hammock suffers from invasions of numerous exotic and native vines. One of the greatest threats is from the native Hoopvine (Trichostigma octandrum). Hoopvine's stems can become very thick and large, adding additional weight to tree limbs, smothering branches and preventing photosynthesis, therefore damaging the canopy trees. Our hope is to conserve the many rare species that call Simpson Park home and allow them to thrive in the heart a metropolis.

rare native plant

One of the many rare plants found at Simpson Park, Husk tomato (Physalis pubescens), is pictured above.

Planting Event with Roots and Shoots Students

On September 21st, IRC's Coastal Biodiversity Restoration Intern, Kelly McLoughlin, had the pleasure of joining the Delray Beach Children's Garden in their Roots n Shoots program! The group talked about beach dune ecosystems, biodiversity, and native plants before they were able to plant propagated natives on their own. We had a blast and look forward to seeing these plants and people again soon for a Restoring the Gold Coast planting event!

schoolchildren planting

Rare Plant Spotlight

IRC's Biodiversity Conservation Fellow, Lauren Trotta, is continuing to make progress on our twenty year review of the Rare Plants of South Florida. Here's a spotlight on one of the many imperiled plants being reviewed: Pine Lily (Lilium catesbaei). Stunning blooms of this species, the shape and vibrancy of fireworks, can be found in sunny, open-canopy wet flatwoods and savannas from now through the Fall. The Pine Lily is broadly distributed, but not particularly abundant across the Southeastern Coastal Plain. In South Florida the best place to search for blooms is in fire-maintained pinelands as far south as Collier and Palm Beach counties.

Pine Lily
IRC South Florida Status: Imperiled
Illustrated By: Lauren Trotta

Pine Rockland Initiative Update

IRC's Ecological Restoration Team, along with several wonderful volunteers, recently assisted Lydia Cuni and Noah Frade of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden with augmenting rare species populations on private pine rockland conservation areas throughout Miami-Dade County. These sites included IRC-owned J.K. Small Pineland and Robert Moreno's pine land (pictured above). Many of the species planted were rescued from sites that are slated for development. Augmented species included Argythamnia blodgettii, Croton linearis, Ipomoea microdactyla, Ipomoea tenuissima, Solidago odora var. chapmanii, and Lantana canescens.

IRC Hires New Intern

Kelly McLoughlin joined IRC as our Coastal Biodiversity Restoration Intern in July of 2022. She graduated from the University of Miami with degrees in Marine Science and Biology, intent on serving coastal ecosystems. As a passionate environmentalist with experience in coral conservation, benthic, and marine mammal research she is excited to join and contribute to our Restoring the Gold Coast program. Welcome to the team, Kelly!

Get Involved with Restoring the Gold Coast

We are excited to begin Phase II of our popular Restoring the Gold Coast (RGC) Program in Palm Beach County thanks to funding from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties and New York Life! As we plan out our events and schedule for this year, we wanted to let you know ways you can get involved.
  • Volunteer With Us: keep an eye out on our social media and website for public volunteer opportunities where you can get your hands dirty while helping us restore coastal biodiversity. For example, be on the lookout for details on our RGC Phase II Launch Event which will be posted online very soon. Are you looking for something with more hours to fulfill a school requirement? Talk to us about weekly watering opportunities at our planting sites.
  • Book a Presentation With Us: we offer educational RGC programs catered to all age groups. If you know of a club or organization that would like to learn more about coastal conservation, reach out to IRC's new Coastal Biodiversity Restoration Intern, Kelly McLoughlin.
  • Schedule a Private Site Assessment: we have partnered with Adopt-a-Dune to offer site assessments and personally curated plant bundles to private landowners with coastal dune habitat on their property. Click here for more information on pricing and logistics.
  • Sponsor an Event: we are looking for up to 10 community partners to sponsor or co-sponsor coastal restoration events this fall. Reach out to Kelly McLoughlin for more information.

Lauren B. Trotta, PhD joins IRC as a Biodiversity Conservation Fellow

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022

The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) announces that Lauren B. Trotta, PhD, has joined IRC as a Biodiversity Conservation Fellow thanks to support from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

In this role, Dr. Trotta will facilitate the effort to conduct a 20-year review of the IRC’s Rare Plants of South Florida, a treatise on the status of South Florida’s rarest plants published in 2002. This book, produced after an intensive seven years of work by IRC and dozens of collaborators, documented the status of the rarest 25% of the native plants in South Florida, including more than 100 that were possibly extinct in the region. The release of Rare Plants of South Florida was followed by a series of land manager workshops, and then an explosion of plant survey and study work in the region by IRC and many others.

"What has changed over the past 20 years?” asks IRC Executive Director, George Gann. “We certainly know a lot more, but what has happened to the rarest species in the South Florida flora? Have they recovered to some degree, or have they continued to decline? How do national parks and other protected areas help conserve regionally rare biodiversity? Lauren is going to help IRC answer these questions and more."

Originally hailing from Connecticut, Lauren earned her BS in Biology from Providence College in Providence, RI before moving to Gainesville, FL, where she earned her MSc and PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. Lauren’s previous research experience focused on understanding the drivers of floristic diversity in Miami-Dade’s urban pine rockland habitat fragments. She is excited to continue contributing to rare plant conservation in this role with the IRC.

“Lauren is highly skilled in both conducting research on native plants and in handling large complex datasets. We are thrilled to have her bring her expertise to this critical work,” states Mr. Gann.

Melissa Abdo, Director of the Sun Coast Regional Office of NPCA stated, “NPCA applauds the long-term efforts of our partners at IRC to study and share regional biodiversity information and to connect communities in South Florida to their natural heritage. South Florida is unique in that our ecosystem is anchored by both large national park sites – Big Cypress, the Everglades, and Biscayne – as well as a mosaic of other protected lands and waters such as national wildlife refuges, state and local parks, and even backyard habitats. Bringing a lens of science to understanding how rare plant diversity is conserved across these parks of South Florida will bring such value to our community. I’m excited to collaborate with IRC and discover what has changed over the last twenty years, and what conservation opportunities lie ahead for the future.”

Petition Filed to Protect Ghost Orchids Under Endangered Species Act

Monday, January 24th, 2022

Today, January 24, 2022, The Institute for Regional Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Parks Conservation Association filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the imperiled Florida-native ghost orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and to designate critical habitat concurrent with listing.

The ghost orchid is an icon of beauty and nature’s abundance,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “It’s long demise in southern Florida and Cuba, in part due to its immense popularity, is a bellwether of things to come. We can do nothing and watch another species go extinct in the wild, or we can act now to protect and restore this flagship orchid and its wild habitats. The Florida we envision includes a restored Greater Everglades ecosystem with all of its biological diversity, including the ghost orchid.

Read the full media release here.

Restoring the Gold Coast Volunteer Day

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

On December 17, IRC had the privilege of hosting a Restoring the Gold Coast volunteer day at Red Reef Park in Boca Raton. Thank you to the City of Boca Raton, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center staff, and volunteers for helping us continue to restore native biodiversity at this coastal park!

Together, we removed several large patches of the invasive Scaevola taccada (Beach naupaka). We also cut back some sea grapes to open up an area containing a beautiful patch of the federally endangered Jacquemontia reclinata (Beach clustervine) to provide more sunlight. Finally, we increased diversity of native plants in the coastal strand by adding plants such as Serenoa repens (Saw palmetto), Jacquemontia reclinata (Beach clustervine), Ernodea littoralis (Beach- creeper), and Dalea floridana (Florida prairieclover).

For more photos from the event, click here.

Welcome George Guillen

Monday, September 20th, 2021

IRC would like to welcome our new Pine Rockland Initiative Field Crew Member, George Guillen. George is currently a student at Florida International University working on his Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science. He already has some experience with pine rockland work and research.

Welcome to the team, George!

Fern Rediscovery in Puerto Rico

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

The USFWS Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office recently announced that the fern, Elaphoglossum serpens, was rediscovered by José Sustache (Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources) as part of a species survey conducted through a Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (Sect 6) grant. Learn more about this find here or check out our plant page here.

Check out our Plants of Puerto Rico web resource or our Plants in Puerto Rico Facebook Page. Photo credit to Omar Monsegur, USFWS biologist.

Congratulations George Gann

Monday, September 6th, 2021

IRC’s Executive Director, George Gann, was involved in the development of 10 Principles to guide the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, as part of his role as International Policy Lead for the Society for Ecological Restoration. The Principles were launched earlier this month at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France. Awesome job, George! You can download them by clicking here.

Wildlife Photos for Natives For Your Neighborhood Needed - Thank You!

Monday, August 30th, 2021

Thank you to those who sent us wildlife photos for our Natives For Your Neighborhood (NFYN) webpage after our request in last month's newsletter. We updated 8 butterfly species that were missing photos and even added 2 new pollinators into our database. Check out the wildlife page in NFYN to see these updates!

We are still looking for more butterfly photos listed here. So if you have pictures of eggs, caterpillars, or butterflies of any species on our list, share them with Cara Abbott. We also welcome photos of other native pollinators not yet on our NFYN site like moths, bees, and birds. Photo credit will be used with each of your photos used on our website.

An Update on Pine Rockland Restoration Efforts at Military Site

Friday, August 27th, 2021

IRC continues its restoration activities at the United States Department of Defense SOCSOUTH facility, adjacent to the Homestead Air Reserve Base in Homestead, Florida. This work focuses on restoring the pine rockland habitat for two federally endangered plants, Galactia smallii (Small's milkpea) and Linum arenicola (Sand flax).

Over the last several years, we have focused our efforts on invasive species control and native hardwood reduction. Currently, we are utilizing restoration mowing at the site to effectively manage native and nonnative weeds and increase native pine rockland groundcover diversity. We have observed native species flourishing and beginning to colonize even the most disturbed areas. We expect to see further expansion as restoration continues. Click here to read more.

Thank You and Goodbye, Gabriel

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021

Gabriel Caceres joined IRC as a field crew member in December 2020 and worked mostly in our Ecological Restoration and Management (ERM) programs like our Pine Rockland Initiative (PRI).

Gabriel recently resigned from IRC to pursue a position as a Wildlife Biologist in Texas. We wish him the best in his new endeavors. Thank you and goodbye, Gabriel!

Great Work, Donnie!

Friday, July 23rd, 2021

Congratulations to Donnie Faughnan who was recently promoted from field crew member to field crew leader with IRC! Donnie started with us nearly two years ago and has been a vital part of our Pine Rockland Initiative program. He will now be able to continue his passion for restoration by overseeing a crew of IRC restoration technicians.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication, Donnie!

Wildlife Photos for Natives For Your Neighborhood Needed

Monday, July 12th, 2021

One of the ways we are updating the pollinator pages in Natives For Your Neighborhood (NFYN) is by making sure each species of butterfly has photos included on its page. Click here for a list of butterfly species that still need photos in NFYN. If you have pictures of eggs, caterpillars, or butterflies of any species on our list, share them with Cara Abbott. Photo credit will be used with each of your photos used on our website.

We also plan on expanding the wildlife included in NFYN beyond just butterflies. Do you have any photos of other wildlife (bees, beetles, moths, birds, etc.) utilizing native plants that you would be willing to share with us? If so, send them to Cara Abbott with a brief description of what is included in the photo.

Help IRC Get Top-Rated Ranking

Monday, July 5th, 2021

If you love our work, then tell the world! Stories about how you've volunteered with us, used our free online databases, or learned something new from a workshop from people like you will help us make an even bigger impact in our community. GreatNonprofits – the #1 source of nonprofit stories and feedback – is honoring highly regarded nonprofits with their 2021 Top-Rated List.

Won’t you help us raise visibility for our work by posting a brief story of your experience with us? All content will be visible to potential donors and volunteers. It’s easy and only takes 3 minutes! Click here to get started!

IRC Hiring New Crew Members

Monday, June 21st, 2021

IRC is currently accepting applications for team member (field technician) positions for 2021 for our Pine Rockland Initiative program. Our restoration projects will be in Miami-Dade County working on restoring the pine rockland fragments through invasive plant treatment, native hardwood reduction, rare plant monitoring, seed collecting, and other restoration activities. Responsibilities include using hand tools and mechanical tools, such as chainsaws and brush cutters, and applying herbicide. Some knowledge of south Florida plants (native and non-native) is preferred but not required (must have the ability to learn in the field). Must be okay working in the south Florida climate (hot and humid). Must be able to lift 50 lbs. Full-time, starting pay rate is $10.50/hour, and must have reliable transportation. Our field office is located in Goulds, FL (south Miami-Dade County). Email Cara Abbott your resume and cover letter at abbott@regionalconservation.org.

Click here for more information.

Florida City Pineland Preserve Field Trip and BioBlitz

Saturday, June 12th, 2021

IRC hosted another event in celebratation of the Society for Ecological Restoration's Make a Difference Week at Florida City Pineland Preserve. As part of this event, we held a field trip/bioblitz to get the citizens of Miami-Dade County outside and into the local natural areas. Thank you to all who came out and contributed and learned about the imperiled pine rockland ecosystems.

Atlantic Dunes Park Restoration Event

Saturday, June 5th, 2021

IRC hosted a restoration event on World Environment Day at Atlantic Dunes Park! This event also celebrated the launch of the United Nation's Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the Society for Ecological Restoration's Make a Difference Week.

Our wonderful volunteers helped us remove invasive species and plant Tephrosia curtissii (Curtiss' hoarypea) (state endangered and IRC critically imperiled) and Dalea floridana (Florida prairieclover) (Federally and state endangered and IRC critically imperiled), which have been grown specially for our Restoring the Gold Coast project by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Thank you to New York Life and Pugliese Public Relations for sponsoring this important work! Click here for more photos.

Atlantic Dunes Park: A Restoration Success Story in Progress

Monday, May 31st, 2021

As we prepare for our event on June 5th to celebrate the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we want to reflect on the progression of our work at Atlantic Dunes Park (ADP), in Delray Beach, Florida. Since 2016, IRC has worked to restore coastal biodiversity at ADP. This work has included floristic research and restoration planning, invasive plant removal, native plant installations, trash pick-up, and photo monitoring. Our focus has been on the restoration of the critically rare coastal strand community, which has been nearly obliterated in southeastern Florida south of northern Palm Beach County. We have been able to augment or reintroduce many native species that were previously documented at the park, were missing, or are very rare in dunes in southern Palm Beach County. Click here for a list of plants at ADP.

Restoration at ADP has been part of our Green Delray and Restoring the Gold Coast program (RGC) which was the 2019 Environmental Award winner from Impact 100 Palm Beach County (Impact PBC). We have been able to make a lot of progress removing invasive plants and adding biodiversity while including the local community. This has provided many opportunities over the years for volunteers to be part of the restoration process and to learn why it is important to protect and restore coastal ecosystems. Many volunteers have returned multiple times, becoming key volunteer crew members and team leaders. These volunteers are key to us making a difference.

Read more here...

IRC Hiring New Crew Members

Friday, April 30th, 2021

IRC is currently accepting applications for team member (field technician) positions for 2021 for our Pine Rockland Initiative program. Our restoration projects will be in Miami-Dade County working on restoring the pine rockland fragments through invasive plant treatment, native hardwood reduction, rare plant monitoring, seed collecting, and other restoration activities. Responsibilities include using hand tools and mechanical tools, such as chainsaws and brush cutters, and applying herbicide. Some knowledge of south Florida plants (native and non-native) is preferred but not required (must have the ability to learn in the field). Must be okay working in the south Florida climate (hot and humid). Must be able to lift 50 lbs. Full-time, starting pay rate is $10.50/hour, and must have reliable transportation. Our field office is located in Goulds, FL (south Miami-Dade County). Email Michelle Smith your resume and cover letter at msmith@regionalconservation.org.

New York Life Foundation Grant

Monday, April 26th, 2021

IRC received a $1,000 individual grant from the New York Life Foundation to recognize the time and expertise agents provide to local nonprofits in their local community. This grant recognizes the volunteer service of John Campanola, Agent with New York Life’s South Florida General Office in Sunrise, who has been a volunteer with the IRC for over seven years and is serving on their Board of Directors.

Both John and the New York Life Foundation have been key support of IRC's work. Everyone at IRC is grateful for their continued support and plan to use this grant towards our Green Delray Program.

George N. Avery Pineland Volunteer Day

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

IRC's field biologist, Michelle Smith, and restoration crew leader, Alex Seasholtz, led volunteers to help clean up George N. Avery Pineland. There were lots of beer bottles, random car parts, and random house debris. A 10yd dumpster was filled! Thank you volunteers for all of your help.

City of Boynton Beach Earth Day Kick-Off Event

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

IRC's administrative assistant, Samantha Gabriel, had a great time at the City of Boynton Beach’s drive-thru 200-tree giveaway event for Earth Day 2021! We had a booth to hand out stickers and info on IRC’s work with some of our friends, like Community Greening, Sea Turtle Adventures, Surfrider Foundation, Loggerhead Marine Center, and more.

Thanks for having us City of Boynton Beach and Go Green Boynton. Happy Earth Day to all!

Native Plant Field Day 2021

Saturday, March 27th, 2021

For this year's Native Plant Field Day, IRC led a field trip at Pine Shore Pineland Preserve in south Miami-Dade County as part of the Dade Chapter Florida Native Plant Society's (DCFNPS) Native Plant Field Day weekend.

IRC's restoration crew leader, Alex, and field biologist, Michelle, shared the ongoing restoration and collaboration efforts that have been going on at the preserve for several years now. We were able to find some great pine rockland plants in flower and saw so many Echo moth caterpillars munching on anything they could get their mouths on! Plants we saw in flower were Butterflyweed, Forked bluecurls, and Pricklypear. Thank you DCFNPS for putting together this weekend of field trips.

Talk at Ocean Ridge Garden Club

Monday, March 8th, 2021

IRC's George Gann gave a talk to our friends at Ocean Ridge Garden Club (ORGC) on The Institute for Regional Conservation - Conservation and Gardening in a Changing World. George discussed the importance of native plant gardening and how it can contribute to the restoration of our environment.

Webinar: Restoration of Native Plant Communities

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

IRC's George Gann presented in this webinar hosted by the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS). In this webinar, he talked about the restoration of native plant communities. If you missed the webinar or want to share it, follow this link.

Thank you Cuplet Fern FNPS and congratulations on celebrating 10 years!

IRC Returns to Lake Ida Parcel

Saturday, February 13th, 2021

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Lake Ida Parcel this month. Volunteers helped us remove non-native and invasive plants such as Caesarweed, Carrotwood, Earleaf acacia, Lima, Rose Natalgrass, and many more. Special thank you to John Miller for being our wonderful chauffeur!

Red Reef Park Restoration

Friday, February 12th, 2021

IRC continued restoration work at Red Reef Park in Boca Raton by improving areas of the park to benefit native coastal plants. To follow up this habitat restoration work, we planted over 130 native plants including Baycedar, Beach morningglory, Blacktorch, Blolly, Marlberry, Saw palmetto, White indigoberry, and much more.

These efforts were made possible by a collaboration with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and the City of Boca Raton. We appreciate Neglected Plants, Coastal Grower's, Inc., and the volunteers for their help in making this happen!

Dune Field Trip with Beach Property Owners' Association

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

George Gann led an interactive teaching tour for the Beach Properties Owners' Association (BPOA) at the Delray Beach Municipal Beach highlighting IRC's restoration activities. Only 12 members were allowed to attend to minimize the disturbance to the dunes and the fragile native plants that are just now taking root. Participants learned how native plants were added in areas where sea grapes had been trimmed as well as in areas where undesirable invasive species were removed. The benefits of biodiversity were described and shown in the middle of the dune system, which opened several eyes and minds.

The BPOA is a non-profit organization for residents of Delray Beach's barrier island. Their mission is to tackle environmental and lifestyle issues that benefit residents and visitors alike.