The information in this state update was provided by Virginia Rivers,

Please contact her for additional information about the update.


Idaho has a long and successful history of citizen involvement with monarch butterflies.  As noted in Robert Pyle’s book “Chasing Monarchs”, two schoolteachers brought monarch caterpillars into their classrooms for rearing, tagging and releasing.  Faye Sutherland and Mary Henshall did this work for three decades and inspired thousands of students.  Monarchs tagged by these schoolchildren provided the first recovery data for monarchs reaching the California coast that had not migrated from somewhere else in California.

Perhaps this history explains the very enthusiastic response when Idahoans heard about Dr. David James’ tagging and recovery study being done at Washington State University.  Private citizens, agency personnel, educators, students and retired scientists all signed up to help and in 2012, monarch butterfly tagging began again in Idaho.


Over this 8-year period, 3,892 monarchs were tagged and released in Idaho.  While recoveries have occurred more commonly in areas close to release sites, one monarch released in Boise was recovered in Goleta, California, having traveled some 900+ miles.

David James and Robert Pyle believe that Idaho monarchs may have a split migration path.  We know some fall migrants travel southwest to winter in coastal California, but others may head directly south through Utah and Arizona to overwinter in Mexico.  Until now we have had less contact with monarch enthusiasts in Utah and Arizona, an issue which the WMA website can address!  If more people are watching for tagged migrants in those two states, our data pool will benefit, and we may fill in the details of migration pathways for Idaho monarchs.

And while monarch numbers were low over the past two years in Idaho, we still enthusiastically keep our hopes high and our eyes open!  To quote Dr. Chip Taylor, “Never underestimate the ability of this butterfly to recover.”


Educational institutions and the thousands of students at all levels who attend them have embraced the concept of helping the Idaho monarch butterfly population recover.  From kindergarten through high school, and undergraduate education through graduate school at our colleges and universities, participation in monarch projects has been very enthusiastic.

Dusty Perkins, Professor of Biology and his students at the College of Western Idaho, organized and conducted four public monarch tagging days in locations around the Treasure Valley.  A total of 46 participants attended and learned about the reason for tagging, the importance of it and how to do it safely.  The participants included private citizens, teachers, high school science clubs and College of Western Idaho students.

Dusty also involved his students in a project to grow and study milkweed to better understand its locally adaptive traits and variation, with a goal of increasing its abundance and distribution in Idaho.  One of the students participating by doing a research project on the milkweed, the results of which were presented at a poster session at the National Science Foundation’s 2019 meeting of EPSCoR research in Columbia, South Carolina.

An overall description of the entire project is below:

To better understand the locally adapted traits and phenotypic variation that exists across showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), The College of Western Idaho is initiating an undergraduate research project.  This project seeks to describe ecotypic variation and seed transfer zones of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) throughout its range in the West using a common garden experiment.  The CWI Milkweed Common Garden is an interdisciplinary collaborative effort among CWI Biological Sciences and Horticulture.  The horticulture program leads installation and plant production by providing technical expertise in design, irrigation, plant production, transplanting, and final installation.   CWI Biological Sciences leads efforts to conduct data collection analyses and dissemination of results.   This project is supported by funding from the Idaho NSF EPSCOR program and is also supported with in kind technical support from the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.  


Our current project is growing seeds from 35 populations across the western states including ID, OR, WY, UT, NV, CO, CA, and SD.  Seedlings will be grown under common experimental conditions at the CWI Nampa campus.  This work will collect data about seed and seedling survival as well as basic phenological and physiological attributes of plants from different seed sources. Results will be used to help inform species specific seed transfer zones for regional monarch butterfly habitat restoration efforts.   Our work will ultimately determine the extent of adaptive variation among milkweeds in the populations we sampled.  This information will be used to inform land managers about where to source plant materials or seeds to achieve the best survival and ecological outcomes for milkweed plantings for monarch butterfly habitat. 


Dusty partnered with USFWS, IDFG and others to map milkweed during the years 2014-2017 to gather data for western monarch habitat suitability studies.  During this time, 3,923 milkweed occurrences were mapped, and 1,026 monarch occurrences were mapped.  88 citizen scientists were trained to carry out this work, along with 4 undergraduate research students that Dusty mentored.


Boise City Department of Parks and Recreation, through the work of Community Program Coordinator Jerry Pugh, has taken an active role in supporting monarch and milkweed populations within the city parks.  Jerry initiated the Parks, Monarchs and Milkweeds program which is entirely carried out by his team of intrepid volunteers.  For several years they have mapped the incidence of milkweed and monarchs on the greenbelt and in city parks.


In addition, Jerry and his team joined forces with Professor Hollie Leavitt’s biology students on a weekend morning to plant thousands of milkweed seeds in a local park.


For the complete story and data sheets, click the link below:

Boise City Department of Parks and Recreation also carried out a restoration project at the very popular Hull’s Gulch Park. This project was managed by Martha Brabec of the Parks and Rec Department, along with the leadership of U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Dave Hopper (who supplied the milkweed plants and extra people for extra muscle power). 

The enthusiasm for providing habitat for monarchs is tangible in this photograph


There is no simple way to headline the wonderful work happening in Latah County that benefits monarchs and milkweed.  The widespread actions throughout the county are designed and managed within the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District, a state agency.  The mastermind in this is Resource Conservation Planner Brenda Erhardt.


Multiple sources of funding for the projects described below are Partners for Fish and Wildlife, from USFWS; Candidate Conservation Action Funds and Connecting People with Nature funds.

A brief list of their work:


  • Working with local schools to develop Monarch Waystations.  To date we have certified 4 Monarch waystations at local schools and continue to help other educational entities with native plantings and waystation development.

  • Native plant demonstration garden at the Latah SWCD office in Moscow, Idaho is full of showy milkweed!

  • Since 2012 we have highlighted native plants and their connection to monarchs at our annual educational event for local 5th and 6th graders (Conservation Awareness Days) to help students learn about the relationship between milkweed and monarchs, plant a native plant, and take home a native plant to add to their home landscape.

  • Latah SWCD staff frequently give presentations to small and large local groups on developing and implementing pollinator and monarch habitat.


Habitat Creation

  • Palouse Prairie reconstruction projects provide a critical avenue to increasing Monarch butterfly habitat on the Palouse and showy milkweed is incorporated in our native seed mixes whenever possible. 

  • Since 2016 we have been able to incorporate showy milkweed seed into native project sites which encompass over 200 acres.

  • In 2016 Latah SWCD field crews and partners planted approximately 4,600 showy milkweed plugs within existing native prairie reconstruction sites.

  • Our restoration efforts are enhanced by our partnership with a local seed producer (Thorn Creek Native Seed Farm, who provides us with a local source for showy milkweed seed as well as a variety of nectar plants. Without their seed increase efforts we would not be able to include the diversity and quantity of native flowering species that are required to create high-quality pollinator and monarch habitat.



Dr. Cecelia Lynn Kinter, Lead Botanist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game published  “A Guide to Native Milkweeds of Idaho” in 2019.  This 20 page guide book contains outstanding distribution maps prepared by Leona Svancara, and engaging photography by the author and other contributors.  For a comprehensive quick reference on where to find milkweed in the wild, be it showy, narrowleaf, swamp, spider or Davis’s.


Check out this link to her guide:

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Biologist Beth Waterbury is recently retired, but her interest in helping monarchs and milkweed has not slowed in the least!  She has two publications that address the issues of monarch breeding ecology and distribution in Idaho and Washington, and modeling of current and future monarch distribution in Idaho.


Check out her publications via these links:


Holly Hovis, biologist for the Idaho Bureau of Land Management office, and Kristin Lohr, biologist at the Boise U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office co-authored  a Native Garden Guide for Southwestern Idaho.  This comprehensive 59 page guide has 11 additional contributing authors and contains information anyone wishing to start a native garden will benefit from.  Best choices for plants, soil preparation and treatment and cost estimates for projects are just a few of the valuable topics covered.  

Check out their guide here:

In addition, Kristin Lohr manages an email “List serve” of individuals in Idaho that have come together to help monarch recovery.  This group of activists meets about once a year, but stays in contact via Kristin’s email messages. The list consists of biologists and professionals with agencies, retired biologists, educators, students, volunteers and citizen scientists. Idaho Monarch Working Group is the title of this informal group, and Kristin sends messages about upcoming events, activities from all groups, success stories, events and funding possibilities sponsored by government and NGOs (Monarch Joint Venture, Xerces Society, etc.) so we can all stay informed.

Dave Hopper, biologist for Boise U.S. Fish and Wildlife, distributes Monarch Waystation signs to area that have demonstrated adequate resources to sustain the life stages of monarchs.  About a dozen signs have been provided to date to schools, established volunteer pollinator garden sites, agency gardens and public facility gardens.

Personnel in the Boise office also raise showy and swamp milkweed seedlings and distribute them for free to anyone who asks.  Last year alone, about 400 showy and swamp milkweed plants were distributed through this effort.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Their decision is due December 2020.

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