A decision on whether the monarch butterfly will come under federal protection has been delayed 18 months until Dec. 15, 2020.

Citing the "vast and complex undertaking" of assessing the migratory butterfly's population, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they have reached an agreement with the groups that petitioned for protection to allow the additional time to complete the task.

A decision to list the iconic orange-and-black-winged pollinator under the Endangered Species Act was originally slated for mid-June.

Janelle Lemen, NRECA's environmental regulatory issues director, said electric cooperatives can use the extra time for conservation activities that the FWS would consider when making its listing decision. That includes enrollment in the Monarch Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), a voluntary pact signed by energy and transportation companies that is recognized by the FWS.

NRECA is working closely with the agency to finalize the CCAA shortly after its public comment period ends June 14. Doing so will maximize the amount of time available to enroll and contribute to monarch conservation ahead of the listing decision, Lemen said.

NRECA will hold a webinar about the Monarch CCAA on June 27.

"Proactive enrollment in the CCAA is as important as ever since it gives co-ops a chance to implement conservation efforts that could formally sway the listing decision," said Lemen.

"This extension will give the FWS time to incorporate data from next winter's monarch population survey and consider the impact of the CCAA and other voluntary conservation initiatives."

Listing the monarch for protection as an endangered species could impact co-op activities such as vegetation management and new infrastructure construction and maintenance.

In the spring, the monarch migrates from Mexico through the United States and up to Canada, stopping in the Southeast and the central and northern Midwest to mate and spawn. It reverses course in the fall.

Many co-ops in the monarch's path are developing pollinator habitat gardens with milkweed and nectar plants around their headquarters and solar farms and in rights-of-way. Co-ops are also modifying herbicide applications and their mowing and maintenance methods to benefit the monarch.

More co-ops could benefit from taking steps to support the butterfly's population now before the FWS acts, said Lemen.

"This is our chance to implement voluntary conservation that can weigh into the listing determination," she said.

Related content from RE Magazine:

The Butterfly Effect: Co-ops' Proactive Pollinator Efforts Help Prepare for a Federal Listing of the Monarch

Listen to a recent podcast on co-ops' efforts to conserve the monarch: