Government views Monarch Butterfly Releases as a threat to Western Milkweeds

Paul Cherubini monarch at
Fri Dec 7 03:49:46 EST 2001

Thursday December 6 3:02 AM ET

New Rules May Hurt Butterfly Releases

By PAUL RECER, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's been a moment of awe for thousands of
schoolchildren: A cage is opened and a brand new Monarch butterfly flashes its
bright orange and black wings and flutters into the wild.

But it is also a scene that could become illegal, the victim of a federal
bureaucracy eager to protect threatened Western milkweeds.

Farmers who raise Monarchs for profit and ship them to other states say
proposed Agriculture Department regulations would forbid release of the
butterflies into the wild.

"Schoolchildren could still raise the butterflies. But then they would have to kill
them,'' Pennsylvania butterfly raiser Rick Mikula said Wednesday.

The regulations also threaten a growing fad, marking festive occasions by
releasing hundreds of adult Monarchs into the breeze.

USDA officials said the regulations are required to protect members of the
milkweed family of plants, the favored food of Monarch larvae.

Wayne Wehling, a USDA specialist in plant-feeding insects, said at least some
milkweed species in Oklahoma and in Arizona are endangered. Allowing
unregulated interstate shipment and release of the butterfly, Wehling said,
could tip the balance against the plants, on which the migrating Monarch
habitually lays its eggs.

In effect, the USDA is squeezed between a federal law protecting endangered
plants and the growing popularity of commercial butterfly farming.

"It's a real Catch-22,'' said Wehling.


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