Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Historic Agreement Will Conserve Nearly 450,000 Acres for Monarch Butterflies in Texas

March 10, 2021

Contact(s):

USFWS Public Affairs: Aubry Buzek, aubry_buzek@fws.gov, (512) 962-0289

TxDOT Media Relations: MediaRelations@txdot.gov, (512) 463-8700


Image of monarch butterfly feeding on Texas native blue mistflower Credit: Katie Boyer/USFWS

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is enrolling 1.238 million acres of land, consisting of 73,038 center lane miles of highways and interstates, in the historic nationwide Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCAA) for Energy and Transportation Lands administered by the University of Illinois-Chicago with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nearly 450,000 acres are being adopted in the agreement, which encourages transportation and energy partners to participate in monarch conservation by providing and maintaining habitat on millions of acres of rights-of-way and associated lands.

“The monarch butterfly is one of America’s most well-known native insects, but it has experienced significant population declines during recent decades,” said Amy Lueders, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director. “Through the monarch butterfly CCAA, we’re working with energy and transportation partners to help save this iconic species and other pollinators. We are incredibly grateful to TxDOT for joining the agreement and stepping up to help improve habitat and actively contribute to the recovery of monarchs on the millions of acres of highways and interstates they manage.”

“TxDOT’s rights-of-way are excellent habitat for wildlife including pollinators such as the monarch butterfly as well as bats, bees, birds, and many more,” said James Stevenson, TxDOT maintenance division director. “Since milkweed is a crucial host plant for monarchs, TxDOT fully supports milkweed growth on state rights-of-way. Thousands of acres of milkweed appear on rights-of-way every year due to TxDOT’s longstanding wildflower and pollinator programs.” 

Texas plays an important role in monarch butterfly migration, with the colorful pollinators visiting the state every fall and spring as they pass through their breeding grounds in the north and their overwintering areas in Mexico. Monarchs rely on milkweed for laying eggs and caterpillar food and other nectar plants for forage, but as those native plants have declined with an overall loss of habitat, monarchs have too. Populations across the U.S., Canada and Mexico have dropped by about 90% over the past 20 years.

Thanks to the nationwide monarch agreement, companies in the energy and transportation sectors will provide habitat for the species along energy and transportation rights-of-way corridors on public and private lands across the country. Partners who enroll in the agreement through a certificate of inclusion, like TxDOT and currently 15 others nationwide, will carry out conservation measures to reduce or remove threats to the species and create and maintain habitat annually. Although this agreement specifically focuses on monarch habitat, the conservation measures will also benefit several other species, especially pollinating insects.

“TxDOT’s early participation in the CCAA has helped us make huge strides towards the conservation targets laid out in the agreement and build momentum with other transportation agencies and energy companies interested in supporting the monarch butterfly,” said Iris Caldwell, program manager at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which administers the CCAA. “TXDOT is a natural leader for this work given their well-established wildflower program and key position along the monarch flyway.”

To help reverse pressing threats like the loss of habitat and native milkweed plants, TxDOT will create, enhance and maintain habitat for monarch butterflies, as well as continue their general operations, vegetation management and maintenance and modernization activities within existing rights-of-way. In addition to seeding and planting nectar producing wildflower seed mixes to restore and create habitat for monarchs, the department will be conducting brush control to promote roadway safety and pollinator habitat; conducting conservation mowing to enhance floral resource habitat; and applying herbicides to control undesirable vegetation and restore native or desired plant communities.

Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are declining due to multiple factors, including habitat loss. Agreements like this offer an innovative way for partners to voluntarily help at-risk species while receiving regulatory assurance and predictability under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Service and the University of Illinois-Chicago signed an integrated, nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly on energy and transportation lands throughout the lower 48 states in April 2020.

CCAAs and CCAs are formal, voluntary agreements between the Service and landowners to conserve habitats that benefit at-risk species. A CCAA is for non-federal partners only and provides assurances to participants (in the form of an “enhancement of survival permit”) that no additional conservation measures will be required of them if the covered species later becomes listed under the ESA. A CCA can be entered into by any partner, whether federal, state or local authority, non-governmental organization, private individual or corporation. It memorializes the conservation commitment of the landowners, but unlike a CCAA, it does not provide assurances.

The monarch agreement integrates both CCA and CCAA programs so energy and transportation partners can provide conservation seamlessly throughout their properties, where there may be a mix of non-federal and federal lands.

In addition, if monarch butterflies are listed as endangered or threatened in the future, TxDOT will receive incidental take coverage on maintenance and modernization activities that fall substantially within existing right of way. Incidental take includes the unintentional harming, harassing or killing of a listed species and is prohibited under the ESA unless a permit is issued.

The Service was petitioned to list the monarch butterfly under the act in 2014.  On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that listing the monarch as endangered or threatened is warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions.

More information regarding the Service’s monarch butterfly conservation efforts and the candidate conservation agreement with assurances can be found on the Service's Save the Monarch website.

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws/gov. Connect with our Facebook page at facebook.com/usfwsmidwest, follow our tweets at twitter.com/usfwsmidwest, watch our YouTube Channel at youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at flickr.com/photos/usfwsmidwest.

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The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining 80,000 miles of road and for supporting aviation, maritime, rail and public transportation across the state.

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.