Work crews set to clean site of Delhi Sands fly

COLTON: Cleanup has been hampered by rules that protect the habitat of the endangered insect.

12:29 AM PDT on Saturday, May 1, 2004
By ELLEN BRAUNSTEIN / The Press-Enterprise

COLTON – Work crews that pick up trash as restitution for committing minor crimes will do so delicately this month when they clean the littered breeding grounds of an endangered, federally protected fly, a Colton official said this week.

The rampant illegal dumping on hundreds of acres of sand dunes bisected by Slover Avenue has drawn national attention because cleanup is hampered by federal rules against harming the habitat of the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.

Last summer, Colton police cracked down on illegal dumping through stepped-up enforcement of a car-seizure ordinance. More than a dozen people have been cited and about eight vehicles confiscated since the municipal ordinance was passed last August.

But sofas, refrigerators, tires and construction rubbish still pile up along Slover, said Colton City Engineer Amer Jahker, who is organizing three weekend cleanups in May and June.

“If we can’t get it out of here, it attracts more trash,” he said.

Removing the rubbish is the long-term solution, as the city has seen on Agua Mansa Road.

Regular cleanups over the past year have reduced illegal dumping by 90 percent, he said.

But unlike Agua Mansa, the Slover Avenue area is home to the rare Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.

Along Slover, biologists contracted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have found a handful of flies during the few late summer days that they emerge from underground burrows to mate, lay eggs and die.

The inch-long insect is the only fly officially listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal law protects species in imminent danger of extinction from harm. The Delhi Sands fly’s habitat is an area of sand dunes east of Los Angeles, in northwestern Riverside and southwestern San Bernardino counties.

When the fly was listed as endangered in 1993, it was estimated that commercial, agricultural and residential development had left less than 3 percent of the fly’s habitat untouched. The fly now may number only in the hundreds and exist at less than a dozen sites.

Since its listing, the fly has bedeviled Colton officials and scared off developers over federal requirements to purchase costly mitigation land in exchange for building on fly habitat.

City officials say that federal protection of the fly is exterminating the city’s economy. They estimate losses of $300 million in investment and 700 to 1,000 jobs.

Fish and Wildlife officials say that Colton leaders exaggerate the agency’s ability to impede all aspects of the city’s operation in the name of protecting the fly – including trash cleanup.

Little is known about how deep the flower-loving fly pupa burrows in the sand.

“We think that it’s unlikely that flies would be harmed by picking up trash. We think the impact would be deeper in the soil if things were picked up with a truck,” said Eric Porter, the agency biologist in charge of the often-futile negotiations with Colton over habitat conservation.

The trashier off-road area remains untouched because U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibits the use of machinery such as skip loaders on the sand, Jahker said.

Jahker said that workers will have to carry trash out by hand, walking up to 100 yards to a bin on the street.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that a biologist should be present to supervise the cleanups.

“We will probably want to be out there,” Porter said.

The conservation of the remaining fly habitat is as important as saving the species, said entomologist Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species Program.