Electric cooperatives have a new avenue toward regulatory certainty as an endangerment listing on the monarch butterfly is decided this year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a voluntary agreement for conservation action that guarantees participants no additional measures will be required of them if the species is later listed under the Endangered Species Act.

USFWS, along with University of Illinois-Chicago, on April 8 unveiled the final Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly on energy and transportation lands throughout the lower 48 states. 

Co-ops may enroll in the CCAA until the monarch is listed but early enrollments through the end of June will be factored into the agency's listing decision. USFWS is expected to announce its listing proposal on the monarch butterfly December 15.

"This agreement can provide long-term certainty to co-ops investing in habitat to benefit the monarch butterfly and other pollinators," said Stephanie Crawford, NRECA's senior regulatory manager.

"Co-ops signing on to the CCAA will be able to continue maintaining and modernizing their electric infrastructure regardless of the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision and any new restrictions the agency could impose."

The agreement calls for participants to create and maintain monarch habitat in rights of way and other properties. Partners enrolled in the agreement agree to perform conservation measures that reduce or remove threats to the species.

USFWS would grant permission to partners for "incidental take" under the Endangered Species Act should the monarch be listed as threatened or endangered. Incidental take includes the unintentional harming, harassing or killing of a listed species.

Although specific to the monarch, this agreement's conservation activities will benefit several other species and pollinating insects, the service said. 

Many electric co-ops have taken conservation actions along the monarch's migratory corridor that stretches from Mexico into Texas, through the Midwest to Canada. Measures include planting milkweed and coneflower pollinator gardens and integrated vegetation management (IVM) in right-of-way corridors.

Andy Olson, supervisor of forestry services at East Central Energy based in Braham, Minnesota, says his co-op has deployed IVM for years and sees "no downside" to enrolling in the CCAA.

"Our co-op has adopted a strategy to be in early," Olson said. "Even if the monarch doesn't get listed, we want to be a part of it. The benefits far outweigh any benefit of not being a part of it."