Newsroom Midwest Region

Making room for monarchs: Agencies, businesses apply to join historic conservation agreement

A monarch butterfly perched on swamp milkweed
A monarch butterfly perched on swamp milkweed. Photo by Anna Weyers/USFWS.

It’s always easier to resolve a problem before it becomes an emergency, and the same can be said for helping plants and animals before they approach the threat of extinction. Continental populations of monarchs have declined over the past 20 years, raising concerns about their future and prompting us at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explore ways to help. The Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for Monarch Butterfly on Energy and Transportation Lands, launched in April, encourages transportation and energy partners to provide and maintain monarch habitat on potentially millions of acres of rights-of-way and associated lands.

To date, eight state transportation agencies and eight energy companies have stepped up to help the monarch by applying to participate under the agreement. These applicants alone have the potential to conserve and restore more than 600,000 acres of monarch habitat on 2.3 million acres of rights-of-way in 22 states, and we expect more participants to join. The agreement includes conservation measures, monitoring and adaptive management practices that participants must commit to in order to enroll into the agreement.

“Measures like this conservation agreement just make sense, for the monarch butterfly and for people,” said Charlie Wooley, regional director for the Service’s Great Lakes Region. “Our industry and transportation partners who enroll are making a huge contribution to monarch conservation while gaining assurances that they can carry out their responsibilities with certainty.”

“We are excited to see growing interest in the CCAA across both the energy and transportation sectors and from all across the U.S. The early commitments from applicants indicate a strong willingness from industry partners to continue and expand their efforts to be stewards of valuable habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators on working landscapes,” said Iris Caldwell of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The Energy Resources Center administers the agreement and enrolls participants.

Conservation measures include actions like removing invasive species, planting and maintaining native flowering plants, and restoring and maintaining minimum densities of milkweed stems. These measures address the key threats facing monarchs on rights-of-way lands, in particular, the loss of milkweed and flowering nectar plants. Participants use these conservation measures to create, enhance and maintain monarch habitat on a certain portion of their lands across the country every year.

In return, if monarch butterflies are listed as endangered or threatened in the future, the Service would grant permission for “incidental take” to partners enrolled in the agreement. Under the Endangered Species Act, incidental take includes the unintentional harming or killing of a listed animal species. Examples of actions covered by the agreement that could cause incidental take on enrolled lands include replacing, maintaining, and enhancing existing infrastructure such as pipelines, transmission lines and roadways.

The Service is currently considering a petition to list the monarch under the Endangered Species Act and is expected to make a decision in December 2020.

Learn more about the monarch candidate conservation agreement with assurances.