Updated: Dec. 16, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will closely monitor the monarch butterfly population for future protection, a development that will strengthen conservation strategies by electric cooperatives along the iconic pollinator’s broad migratory path between Mexico and Canada.

The agency announced its Dec. 15 decision on the monarch as “warranted-but-precluded” from an endangered or threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act because it is applying its resources to other species with more dire population challenges.

The USFWS notice on its decision will be published in the Federal Register. The agency said it will review the status of the monarch each year to determine whether further protection is necessary but is tentatively expected to move forward on listing the monarch in 2024.

Still, the agency’s decision carries broad implications and requirements for right-of-way work, vegetation management and other co-op activities in areas with butterfly habitat.

“Co-ops will continue to take proactive steps to support monarch habitat such as undertaking voluntary conservation on their rights of way and other lands they manage under the nationwide monarch butterfly CCAA,” said Stephanie Crawford, NRECA senior regulatory manager.

To help protect the monarch and allow utilities to meet their service obligations, NRECA partnered with other affected sectors and the USFWS to develop a voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances. Under the plan, businesses take proactive conservation measures and, in exchange, receive guarantees against penalties for unintentional harm to a listed species while conducting essential work.

Co-ops may apply for the monarch CCAA until the species is listed as threatened or endangered by the USFWS.

“The nationwide monarch butterfly CCAA is the largest industry collaboration of its sort to date and shows that co-ops and the broader energy sector are dedicated to supporting monarch habitat across the U.S.,” said Crawford.

“Continued dedication to voluntary conservation to bolster monarch habitat is now more important than ever.”

Braham, Minnesota-based East Central Energy in September became the first electric co-op permitted by USFWS to enter the monarch agreement. Hoosier Energy is the first generation and transmission co-op to apply to join the CCAA. The Bloomington, Indiana-based G&T expects to win agency approval soon.

“The CCAA is something all co-ops should be looking at,” said David Appel, Hoosier Energy’s environmental team leader. “Knowing that what we have to do for new construction and maintenance is bound within the agreement, that regulatory certainty is probably top justification.”

A cost-benefit analysis over five years also shows “significant savings” for the G&T, which has a 1,700-mile transmission network and 9,000 acres of generation property enrolled in the agreement, he said.

Like East Central Energy and a growing number of co-ops, Hoosier Energy already implements integrated vegetation management, a flexible mix of mowing and herbicide application that can support habitat while maintaining safe right-of-way requirements.

“The CCAA is a way of validating our current practice and showing its true value,” said Appel. “We are committed to the agreement regardless of the listing decision.”