Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

USDA may restrict butterfly releases

December 6, 2001


— The classic school science project raising Monarch butterflies, then watching them flutter into the wild could become illegal, a victim of federal bureaucracy eager to protect threatened Western milkweeds.

Farmers who raise Monarchs for profit and ship them to other states said proposed new Agriculture Department regulations would forbid any release of the butterflies with the bright orange and black wings.

"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 two members of the milkweed family, which live in Oklahoma and 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 to protect endangered plants and the growing popularity of commercial butterfly farming.

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

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