Woman in Utah leads effort to save fireflies

Posted at 1:04 PM, Jun 24, 2021

SPANISH FORK, Utah — After the sun sets, the grassy fields surrounding a farm in Utah County sparkle with tiny bits of light on summer nights.

“This is firefly habitat,” said Diane Thompson Garcia.

Garcia is the current owner of the Thompson Century Farm, which has been in her family since 1852.

While awareness of the farm and its fireflies has increased in recent years, many Utahns still don’t know fireflies can be found in Utah.

“They need three things for the perfect environment. They need moist wet soils year-round, they need tall grasses like what we see here, and they need dark skies,” said Garcia.

Her farm has always had wet soils and tall grasses, but keeping “dark skies” over her farm has been a challenge in recent years. Nearby parcels of land are being developed into neighborhoods.

“If there’s too much light, they’ll die out because they won’t mate, and they won’t have a next-generation,” Garcia said.

Fireflies display light only during their mating season, which lasts a matter of weeks, typically in June and July. During this time, females cling to the stems of plants while males take flight. The quick displays of light allow them to find one another in the dark. Artificial lights can confuse them.

Several years ago, when Garcia explained this to a city planner, she says she was told: “it’s too late; the cat’s already out of the bag.”

Not one to give up, Garcia kept contacting city officials, builders, and residents in her community.

She began offering free “Firefly tours” to help educate others.

Once people understood the special experience of seeing fireflies in person, opinions about preserving dark skies began to change.

“Now, the street lights that are in this development called ‘Annie’s Acres,’ those street lights are now dark sky compliant,” said Garcia.

The City of Spanish Fork has gotten behind Garcia’s effort to save the fireflies and even plans to replace older street lights with dark sky-compliant lights in the future.

Garcia continues to give free firefly tours, but she’s completely booked up for this summer and beyond.

While thousands have requested a tour, she limits the number of guests she allows onto the farm and into the fields each night.

“There’s just a little thin trail. We walk on that, so they’re not out trapping through the field messing with the firefly environment,” Garcia said.

People who volunteer to help preserve firefly habitat by doing things such as planting trees, or erecting light-blocking fences, get moved to the top of the wait-list for tours.

You can learn more about the Thompson Century Farm, firefly tours, and volunteer opportunities here.

Todd Tanner at KSTU first reported this story.