A heated debate is occurring over the practice of ceremonial butterfly releases. For the scientific community, the spread of disease and the possible infusion of non-adapted genes into local populations are reasons why releases should either be severely limited or prohibited all together. For the entrepreneurs who raise and sell butterflies for release at weddings, funerals, and other events, the absence of any evidence that the industry has had a negative impact on wild populations is proof that the scientists have overstated their case. As Adam Federman reports in the Autumn issue of Earth Island Journal, the controversy has been sustained by a paucity of basic data: No one knows the exact number of butterflies released, in what states, and at what time of year.
It is impossible to know precisely how many commercial farms there are today as opposed to 10 years ago. Butterfly breeders are not required to register with the USDA. Farms are not inspected and there is very little oversight. We are far from having our thumb on the heartbeat of the industry, says Wayne Wehling, senior entomologist at the USDA.
It is clear, however, that the industry has grown rapidly in the last decade.
The butterfly trade would hardly exist if not for the wedding industry, which contributes roughly $161 billion to the US economy each year, and has encouraged the practice as a green alternative to releasing helium balloons or throwing rice. The idea was first mentioned in Beverly Clarks popular book, Planning a Wedding to Remember, published in 1995. In a section called Other Special Touches, Clark writes: Todays ecology-minded brides, who are looking for new ways to do something special for their weddings and the environment, might consider the newest concept in weddings, and release dozens of monarch butterflies. Clark says that releases will increase the butterfly population and are thus good for the environment. As Swallowtail Farms, a commercial breeder, proclaims on its Website: Orange is the new green.
But many in the scientific community remain skeptical. I think when a bride or the brides mother or whoever gets a whole bunch of butterflies in envelopes in the mail the day before the wedding, they never even make any kind of a connection to them and they just let them go, says Karen Oberhauser, a professor at the University of Minnesota. I dont really feel like theres a huge benefit. Theres not a lot of learning thats going on.
Read the whole story at Earth Island Institute: All Aflutter: The Flap Over the Mail Order Butterfly Industry.
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