Academy of Sciences' Celebratory Butterfly Release Raises Controversy
When San Francisco's new Academy of Sciences opened at the end of last month, they celebrated their opening in a beautiful new green space with a ceremonial release of a flock of monarchs. What seemed like an innocent release of a few beautiful butterflies has sparked tensions between the academy and conservationists. More on the controversial move below the fold.The Academy of Sciences' release of 500 monarchs had the effect of any butterfly release. The crowd was in awe and for a moment, all was silent as the colorful insects flew into the air. The whole scene appeared innocently ceremonial. Area butterfly counters, though, perceived the event quite differently.
When these conservationists saw the monarchs released they were miffed. Though they are supporters of the museum, and also describe being moved by a cloud of butterflies, they believe the academy's choice to release the butterflies was irresponsible.
For years local volunteers have counted the monarchs, tracking a population that has been steadily declining. This year, when they count in November, they fear that the naturally small population will be hard to decipher from the new academy butterflies that will join them on the coast.
The academy was not informed of this counting, and said if it had been it would have been open to other ideas. Though the butterfly counters regret not informing the academy about their annual counting, they are still disappointed the institution chose to celebrate its opening with a butterfly release.
While the breeders the academy got the butterflies from claim there are no adverse effects of butterfly releases (i.e. the spread of diseases), butterfly counters feel any such moves impact the ability to track such a fragile population. One counter argued that the best outcome of the celebratory release at the academy would be legislation outlawing similar future acts.
Another tracker said,
I don't think you would have seen (the academy) release birds or even crabs without more study or understanding of what this did to the ecosystem. We've gotten into this mind-set that releasing butterflies is OK, but nobody does it with anything else.