Releasing butterflies at events is something that’s supposed to be beautiful, but the ugly consequences have led environmentalists and butterfly enthusiasts to encourage San Francisco to ban the practice.
Last week the Commission on the Environment heard testimony from experts about the effects of releasing commercially bred butterflies for special occasions, such as weddings, funerals and ceremonial presentations, which environmentalists believe is hurting butterflies and hindering efforts to protect them in the wild. According to experts, releasing them may seem like a lovely gesture, but doing so causes a number of problems, for both the butterflies who are bred in captivity and for native populations, that people don’t seem to be aware of.
The proposed resolution addresses a number of issues that can be caused by releases. They include potentially spreading diseases that can result in making native populations weaker or causing die-offs and adding bad genes to populations of wild butterflies that are a result of being overbred. Experts are also worried about how releases confuse the study of natural butterfly populations, their locations and migration patterns, which we don’t understand very well.
According to the North American Butterfly Association, another big problem is that releases create a commercial market for live butterflies (currently about $10 per butterfly), which can cause trouble for wild ones. For Monarch butterflies, taking more could be a disaster. Their numbers have steadily dropped around 80 percent, or more by some estimates, in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, their overwintering sites in Mexico and California have become targets for poachers who want to sell them to the public.
Concerns have also been raised about the humaneness of breeding, selling and shipping butterflies long distances. Stories of releases that have gone terribly wrong with butterflies arriving sick, dead or halfway there have deterred some from the practice, but it still continues. Many also worry that setting them free in the wrong place at the wrong time of year may result in a moment of wonder for us, but it’s a death sentence for butterflies who will be disoriented in the wrong climate with little chance of survival.
Amber Hasselbring, executive director of the nonprofit ecology organization Nature in the City, told Time the trade results in living creatures being “objectified and treated like party favors,” adding that there are more environmentally sensitive ways we can celebrate.
The ban is being opposed by sellers and the International Butterfly Breeders Association, which is arguing that releases are beneficial and that people will just keep ordering them anyway even if the practice is banned.
The commission has approved the resolution, which concluded that, “Many San Franciscans believe that butterflies are animals to be respected and valued as part of the city’s natural heritage and should not be used as decorations or for entertainment.” However, the city’s Board of Supervisors will have to approve it to make it a law, which would make it the first of its kind in the nation.
Please sign and share the petition urging the Board of Supervisors to take a stand against the use of living creatures as disposable party favors and encourage our respect for wildlife by banning the release of commercially bred butterflies.
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