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Monticello man battling to keep monarch milkweed

City officials have ordered him to trim down plants

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MONTICELLO — Monticello resident Michael Felton is to appear before the City Council on Tuesday to explain why the milkweed plants on his property are a benefit to the planet and the community rather than the nuisance asserted by a complainant.

Felton, who has been growing milkweed at his home for more than 10 years, said he considers his appearance before the council — at 6 p.m. at the Renaissance Center — an opportunity to educate the community on the benefits of milkweed to monarch butterflies and to other important but threatened pollinator insect species.

In Felton’s latest clash with city officials, Police Chief Britt Smith, in an Aug. 15 letter, notified him that his milkweed is classified as a “noxious weed” in violation of both state and city code and that he had 10 days to remove the milkweed from his yard and an adjacent public right of way.

In a reply to City Administrator Doug Herman, Felton provided documentation that milkweed is not a noxious week under Iowa law and explained that, as a good-faith gesture, he has removed more than 200 milkweed plants from the city right of way.

Felton, whose property has been designated a monarch way station by Monarch Watch, a leading monarch conservation group, told Herman that he would like to help the community change its collective mind-set of milkweed as an undesirable weed to a prerequisite for the survival of the monarch butterfly.

Herman, in a Sept. 1 letter to Felton, said he had been convinced that milkweed is not a noxious weed under state law. However, he said, the city’s nuisance code forbids weeds in residential areas to exceed 8 inches in height and that, accordingly, he had seven days to trim them into compliance.

Felton said he plans to attempt to persuade city officials to exclude milkweed — the only plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs and the only plant their larva eat — from Monticello’s nuisance ordinance.

Felton had a similar experience in 2009 when city officials, responding to anonymous complaints, ordered him to remove milkweed from portions of his property.

Felton removed more than 360 plants from his yard and areas between the sidewalk and the street but was allowed to keep milkweed growing in his garden as part of his efforts to provide host plants for future generations of monarchs.

“Monticello is completely out of touch with what’s happening nationally,” Rich Patterson, the recently retired director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, said Friday in an email to Felton.

Patterson said there is strong public support for taking action that encourages monarch butterflies in particular and pollinators in general.

Cedar Rapids, which recently announced its intention to convert 1,000 acres of mowed lawn to pollinator patches, is among many cities encouraging the planting of tall native vegetation, he said.

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