NORTH CONWAY - Does the release of commercially raised butterflies at social events harm the species, or are the numbers set free at weddings, graduations and fundraisers too small to have an impact?
According to the North American Butterfly Association, large-scale commercial operations could spread diseases that could devastate the native population.
The International Butterfly Breeders Association says its members raise butterflies in sterile staging areas, shipping them with proper permits, and that there is no basis in fact to support statements that these butterflies are harmful to the ones in the wild.
"I choose to believe the experts at the North American Butterfly Association who work to protect butterflies and believe butterfly releases to be harmful," said Linda Dionne, president of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League (NHARL).
NHARL is asking its supporters to ask the organizers of the Be Kind Fest in Mount Washington Valley to halt the Hope Takes Flight Monarch butterfly release on May 18 in Schouler Park in North Conway Village. The release is part of the three-day Kindness Weekend, a free event that includes musical performances, flatbread pizza, hugs, tai chi instruction, arts and crafts for kids, a Kindness Rally and more. Funds raised through sponsorships and donations help support the Visiting Nurse Home Care and Hospice of Carroll County and the Evergreen Wellness Institute.
"We did a lot of research," said Sandy Ruka, executive director of the hospice. "We do share the concerns. We really feel we were thoughtful."
The organization also sent a letter to NHARL, saying they were open to "finding less controversial ways to assist and honor our clients and their families," but this year's event would go on.
The butterflies are not free. Sponsorship for each butterfly is $25, which goes to the hospice program. The butterfly release is a way to honor and remember loved ones who have passed on.
"Butterflies have long been a symbol of hope and healing," said Ruka. The nonprofit provides long-term care at home, skilled home care, home hospice care and palliative care, along with facilitating support groups, including a loss and recovery group.
Ruka said that the community has been "hugely supportive" of the butterfly release.
Dionne does not think that the actual release lives up to it symbolism.
"Butterflies die in transporting them long distances; in this case, they will be coming from California," she said. "Others will die when released to an unknown and possibly harmful environment.
"Transporting delicate butterflies thousands of miles and then releasing them into a foreign environment where they may die unnecessarily seems very unkind, and certainly not something a Kindness Festival should be doing."
Ruka said they weighed the pros and cons as they researched the issue, concluding that the release was safe for the butterflies and the environment. "Studies do demonstrate they are able to breed and migrate."
Visiting Nurses is buying the butterflies from Swallowtail Farms in California, a member of the International Butterfly Breeders Association. email@example.com