By BRIAN WALKER
RATHDRUM ó Monarch butterflies will soon be more apt to land in Rathdrum on their journeys for food thanks to the city becoming the first in the state to receive the Monarch City USA designation.
Monarch cities encourage and plant milkweed and nectar plants within their boundaries to help the monarch population recover. They may also host monarch festivals or awareness events. A small Monarch City sign with the iconic orange and black butterfly will soon be posted at a city entrance.
"The mayor (Vic Holmes) remembers the time when the monarch came through here, but it doesn't anymore," said Leon Duce, city administrator. "He asked the Parks Department to look into this and, when the city council heard about this, it felt that it would be a good thing for the city to do."
Nearly a billion monarch butterflies have vanished since 1990, according to data released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in February 2015. They rely on the milkweed plants and nectar plants for their food and home. Such plants are decreasing across the country.
Monarch City USA is a nonprofit created in 2015 in Maple Valley, Wash., to coordinate with other organizations to help the monarchs recover. Eleven cities, villages and schools in eight states have become members. A lifetime membership costs $50.
Duce said the first question Rathdrum wanted answered before signing on was whether milkweed is a noxious weed.
"We didn't want to be spreading weeds, but it turns out that there are a lot of flowering plants under the milkweed category," he said. "Nobody wants to start spreading weeds. We want to plant plants that are flowering and makes the community look better."
Although the name implies that the plants are weed, milkweeds are a diverse group of native wildflowers that are not listed as noxious in any state.
Duce said the Parks Department is coordinating with the volunteers of the adjacent community garden on organizing a spring planting of milkweeds at the site and exploring other ideas.
However, don't necessarily expect a cluster of monarchs to land in Rathdrum this year, Duce said.
"Monarchs don't have a road map of where the food is located so it may take a couple years before they find their way to Rathdrum as they migrate to discover their food sources," he said.
The western population of monarchs often migrate to southern California, but has been found overwintering in Mexico as well.