Hoosier Energy’s sprawling service territory includes the migratory path and habitat of the monarch butterfly, but the Bloomington, Indiana-based cooperative is not worried about the likelihood of federal protection for the popular pollinator.

That’s because Hoosier Energy recently became the first generation and transmission co-op to receive a “certificate of inclusion” (COI) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to join the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly. The voluntary agreement ensures enrollees will face no conservation requirements beyond those provided for in the CCAA, should the monarch one day be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“With the certificate of inclusion, we will know what to expect,” said Dave Appel, Hoosier Energy’s environmental team lead. “Even if the monarch is listed, we will not be subject to any greater regulation than what the COI requires.”

USFWS is expected to decide whether to list the monarch as threatened or endangered in the coming years, possibly as early as fiscal year 2024. If listed, opportunities to enroll in the CCAA would remain available to those with operations in monarch habitat until an effective listing date.

Hoosier Energy joins East Central Energy as the only two electric co-ops enrolled in the CCAA so far. The Braham, Minnesota-based distribution co-op received its COI in 2020, the agreement’s first year.

The monarch butterfly has long been a species of concern due to its dwindling population. Along the monarch’s migratory corridor, which stretches from Texas through the Midwest to Canada, many electric co-ops have put conservation plans in place.

“We expect other co-ops to enroll as the listing process moves forward in the coming years,” said Megan Olmstead, NRECA regulatory director.

The nearly two-year certification process involved investment in significant conservation activities and a lot of support from the board and management, but Hoosier and ECE officials say they see a lot of upsides to the effort.

Enrollment in the CCAA “validates what we have done and gives us confidence moving forward,” said Appel. “But the greatest benefit is regulatory certainty.”

The CCAA recognized the integrated vegetation management methods of the two co-ops. IVM involves targeted applications of herbicides to only the woody-stemmed plants that pose the risk of interrupting electric service in rights of way. This allows for minimal disturbance to monarch habitat when compared to widespread mowing and indiscriminate chemical spraying of foliage.

“Most of the conservation measures in our agreement are things that we were already doing, so it wasn’t a big shift for us to meet the requirements of the CCAA,” said Jared Murphy, vegetation management coordinator at Hoosier Energy.

IVM ultimately saves the co-ops significant money on chemicals and equipment by allowing native, pollinator-friendly plants to flourish and create new monarch habitat, co-op staff said.

“Utility vegetation management can, at times, be viewed by the public as destructive or irresponsible, but being part of the CCAA has allowed us to share with our members how we strive to practice good stewardship,” said Alicia Kroll, a member specialist at ECE, which has used IVM for nearly 20 years.

“Rights of way can connect habitat and provide the necessary fuel and nesting sites to the monarch, potentially reducing the need for a listing.”

Hoosier and ECE encourage co-ops in the monarch’s path to consider the CCAA’s benefits.

“If you want to avoid regulations, see where you can make changes to your practices now and, if you can, enroll,” said Kroll.

Read more about co-op conservation activities and pollinators: