IMAGE: ENDANGERED FLY
City of Fontana via AP
This species of insect, the inch-long Delhi Sands fly, is listed as endangered due to its shrinking habitat.
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updated 2/8/2007 11:31:48 AM ET 2007-02-08T16:31:48

This city lives in the shadow of a 1-inch fly that slurps nectar and zooms around like a hummingbird.

The Delhi Sands flower-loving fly is the only fly on the federal endangered species list. Recent counts have yielded no more than two dozen of the flies at any time, and their best hope of survival is pinned on prime breeding habitat in Colton, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

But that prime habitat is considered prime real estate by Colton officials. They say restrictions on building on the habitat have limited commercial growth and cost tens of millions of dollars in economic development. So city leaders have fought to get the fly off the endangered list since it was placed there in 1993.

"It's absurd that an economy and a community should be held hostage by a fly," said Daryl Parrish, the city manager.

Now, after a lengthy stalemate, Colton leaders are ready to negotiate. The city is offering a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that could relax the insect's economic clout: hassle-free development in one neighborhood in exchange for a pristine preserve nearby.

Activists hopeful
Some environmentalists say they are pleased with the city's sudden willingness to negotiate and believe a compromise will happen.

"I'm thinking there's hope we'll finally find a good solution to a problem that has been intractable for many years," said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League, an environmental group that tracks Southern California's desert ecosystem. "We'll look back and say, 'Gee, there was a lot of foresight in protecting that.'"

The proposal would let developers bypass special requirements now in place and build hotels, restaurants and retail on 200 acres along Interstate 10 in the habitat area. The construction would pave over about 20 to 30 acres of prime fly habitat.

In exchange, the city would buy and preserve equal acreage elsewhere for the fly and charge developers $25,000 per acre to build. The money would fund the preserve's purchase and help protect it from the illegal dumping and off-roading.

Jane Hendron, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, declined to discuss specifics of the proposal. But, she said that she hoped city and federal wildlife officials could "reach a solution that will accommodate their economic development needs while ensuring there is adequate conservation."

The Delhi Sands flower-loving fly feeds on nectar and copies the pollinating behavior of species like the hummingbird, butterfly, and honey bee, according to a description on the Fish and Wildlife Service's Web site. The fly once lived and bred on 40 square miles of sand dunes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Its range has now shrunk to just 450 acres of scrubby sand squeezed between developments.

Symbol against sprawl
Environmentalists and federal officials say the fly's well-being mirrors the health of an entire ecosystem that's increasingly threatened by suburban sprawl.

Preserving fly habitat also safeguards several other species in the area that have yet to be studied — or even named, said Greg Ballmer, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside.

"If somebody gave you a shelf full of books, would you throw them out before reading them?" said Ballmer, who got the fly listed. "There could be a fungus that cures cancer growing in the dirt here and we don't even know about it."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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