Mark’s Lawn and Garden in Bridgton released 1,000 butterflies on Sunday. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

BRIDGTON — To help combat dwindling numbers of monarch butterflies, Mark’s Lawn and Garden released 1,000 monarchs recently as part of its fifth annual Monarch Butterfly Festival. 

Despite the popularity of the event, Mark’s may be forced to close its butterfly houses within two years. 

Dozens of people attended the Sept. 15 release, and Mark’s owner Mark Cartonio said he was “overwhelmed by the crowds.” 

Sarah Smith drove 50 miles from Biddeford for the event, but she said “it was worth the drive.” 

It was her family’s first time attending the release, and she said her two children really enjoyed it. 

“We’re trying to increase the population of monarchs in Maine,” said Ron Arzilli, a Mark’s employee. “Our goal is to release as many migratory butterflies as we can.”  

The colorful insects could use the help. 

With the plastic roof removed from one of the greenhouses, the monarchs fly out to freedom. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

By 2018, the eastern monarch population had plummeted 90 percent compared to 20 years ago, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Researchers have blamed the decline on a combination of pesticide use and climate change, among other potential factors. 

There has been some hope on the horizon, however, as the population rebounded this year to a 12-year high, according to research from Cornell University.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently working to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. 

Mark’s purchases 150 chrysalises a year and then raises them in its greenhouses before the annual September release. 

Eastern monarch butterflies will migrate across the continent to overwinter in southern California and Mexico. 

“Our goal is to have as many butterflies come back to Maine as we can and let them procreate,” Arzilli said.  

So far, the strategy appears to be working locally. 

Arzilli said monarchs had not been seen in the region in recent years, but since Mark’s began its annual release, “now people in the surrounding towns are saying they’ve been seeing them all over the place.” 

Despite the event’s success, Cartonio said “it is not in our best interest to continue financially” to raise the butterflies, and that the butterfly house may close in two years. 

“If we can’t get enough volunteers, then in 2021 we will not open the butterfly house,” Cartonio said. “We’ll be looking for public support to continue.” 

Cartonio said he has considered closing the butterfly greenhouses or raising the prices for its tours in order to help offset the cost. 

Instead, next year the business will “rely on fundraisers and volunteers to help offset the cost of raising butterflies.” 

Arzilli said that Mark’s is not giving up yet. The monarchs are too important, he said, not only for their crucial environmental role as pollinators and their beautiful wings, but also, some believe, for spiritual reasons. 

“Most people seem to think it’s a deceased relative’s spirit,” Arzilli said. 

Owner Mark Cartonio said he was “overwhelmed” by the crowds that turned out on Sunday. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

 

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