Species Flys In Face of Continued Development
Ever since the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly was listed as an endangered species in 1993, it has been a poster child for opponents of the federal Endangered Species Act. Now, the fly is the latest endangered species to take center stage in the continually urbanizing Inland Empire.
Other controversial endangered species, such as the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly and the gnatcatcher, can at least win support for aesthetic reasons.
But a fly? Few people are easily convinced of the redeeming value or beauty of flies.
Environmentalists and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service argue, however, that there is more than meets the eye in this argument. For one thing, it's an unusual insect, a 1.25-inch creature with green eyes that hovers like a hummingbird during its brief life span. Saving the fly also saves the Delhi Sands, a habitat with unique plant life. "It's not just the fly, it's the ecosystems on which it depends," said Fish & Wildlife Biologist Mary Beth Woulfe. Preserve land for the fly, and other animals of the ecosystem, such as the Jerusalem cricket, the meadowmark butterfly, and the legless lizard, are also preserved.
In recent months, the fly has become an issue in development projects in the cities of Rialto, Colton, Ontario and Fontana, and in unincorporated San Bernardino County. In adjacent Riverside County, the Endangered Habitats League is litigating over development in possible fly habitat. Local government officials contend they do not clearly know what they are supposed to do and are upset the fly is stalling development projects.
The flap over the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly might have been avoided if either Riverside or San Bernardino County had adopted a regional multi-species habitat conservation plan. These plans are designed to set aside land for endangered species while providing developers certainty as to where they can build. The Clinton administration has supported such planning as a way to avoid fights over a single species. Both counties have such plans underway but are years from completing the documents.
Riverside County's plan could take two to five years to finish. San Bernardino County's multi-species plan received funding authorization in January, and is could be done in three years, according to Randy Scott, the county's planning manager for the species plan.
In the interim, there have been court battles and heated rhetoric. Some cities in the San Bernardino area hired a lobbyist in Washington D.C. to exert influence on the matter there, Scott said.
The planning official said the fly has a "chilling effect" on development
in the county. "In a lot of instances, people are looking elsewhere," he
said. But some government officials are saying, "Here it is, we've got to deal with it.
So get on with it."
That is happening in meetings between local governments and Fish & Wildlife Service officials, where an interim habitat conservation plan for the fly is being crafted. San Bernardino Congressman George Brown, who died recently, brought the parties together for a first meeting in April. Since then, the local governments in San Bernardino County have offered various sites totaling about 400 acres throughout the county for fly habitat. The Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to announce whether it will agree to the plan by the end of August.
"We're not really optimistic that they'll agree," Scott said.
But some kind of agreement is eventually expected.
"I'm hopeful we can come to terms with the cities," said Woulfe, of the Fish & Wildlife Service.
The fly's habitat once covered 40 square miles, but the fly is now located in only a few areas. Woulfe said there is not a good population estimate, although few scientists think there are more than a few hundred of the flies. The largest population is thought to be in the city of Colton.
Listing the fly as an endangered species led to additional costs of building San Bernardino County's medical center, when fly habitat was discovered on the site. But in a suit brought by the county, Fontana, Colton and building groups, a federal court upheld the Fish & Wildlife Service restrictions on building the hospital in fly habitat, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the matter on appeal. The fly is now again affecting the hospital, Scott said, because projects for both traffic and flood control mitigation there could disturb fly habitat.
In recent months, the city of Fontana has been a focal point of fly-related activity as it tries to expand its manufacturing base. (See CP&DR, July 1999.) Two property owners have stopped paying taxes on about 400 acres at the Empire Center while a study determines whether the land is home to the fly. Because of the delinquent tax payments, about $46 million in municipal bonds could go into default, affecting about 9,000 bondholders.
Also in Fontana, the Fish & Wildlife Service sued Angeles Block Co. in May over construction on part of a 90-acre parcel. The lawsuit was settled with an agreement to set aside about 15 acres for fly habitat. A related lawsuit over the site by the Endangered Habitats League is also expected to be settled.
"It certainly has caused delays," said Rialto City Attorney Robert A. Owens. "I'm hopeful the federal government can do something which will enable local jurisdictions to apply rational rules to provide for orderly development, while also protecting endangered species such as the fly. It's frustrating from a public agency perspective not having a clear set of rules."
Dan Silver, EHL executive director, said the group has also sued Riverside County, which approved a negative declaration for a 50-acre warehouse project. Consultants hired by the developer determined the land was not occupied by the fly, he said. Silver said that while it could not be proven that the land is Delhi Sands habitat, the area is a recovery area for the fly.
The fly is also an issue in ongoing EHL litigation against the city of Ontario over its plans to annex an agricultural preserve, he said.
Noting that several thousand acres are slated for development in just one of the county's enterprise zones, Silver said saving the fly will not "make much of a dent in development. … It's a problem that's imminently solvable."
Robert A. Owens, city attorney for Rialto, (909) 874-2390.
Andrew Hartzell, Hewitt & McGuire, attorney for Angeles Block Co. (949) 798-0500.
Dan Silver, Endangered Habitats League, (323) 654-1456.
Randy Scott, County of San Bernardino (909) 387-4147.
Mary Beth Woulfe, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (760) 431-9440.