Historic Agreement Will Conserve Millions of Acres for Monarch Butterflies

April 10, 2020 by Dan McCue
Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed in Michigan. Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reached what conservationists are calling a historic deal to protect monarch butterflies, which pass through multiple states on their annual two-way migrations.

“Completing this agreement is a huge boost for the conservation of monarch butterflies and other pollinators on a landscape scale,” said Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This is a great example of how the administration is working proactively with our partners in the energy, transportation and agriculture industries to provide regulatory certainty for industry while addressing the conservation needs of our most at-risk species,” Skipwith said.

The agreement, developed by the agency in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, doesn’t put the butterflies on the country’s official endangered species list.

Instead, it promotes collaboration between industry, state and federal officials to protect the butterflies and other pollinating insects who play an important role in protecting the nation’s biodiversity.

The agreement encourages transportation and energy partners to participate in monarch conservation by providing and maintaining habitat on potentially millions of acres of rights-of-way and associated lands.

Already, more than 45 companies and a number of private landowners have signed on to the agreement. If all goes according to plan, up to 26 million acres of private, federal, and state land could ultimately be protected.

Iris Caldwell, program manager of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Energy Resources Center, said, “By engaging early in voluntary conservation, utilities and departments of transportation can avoid increased costs and operational delays as a result of a potential listing.”

“This provides tremendous value to industry and will also yield big benefits to the monarch butterfly,” she said.

Caldwell, whose center will administer the agreement, went on to say ” not only is this the largest CCAA in history and completed on one of the fastest timelines thanks to our incredible partners, but it also represents an extraordinary collaboration between industry leaders and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that can serve as a model for addressing challenges to other at-risk species.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, also applauded the agreement, saying it “brings greater certainty to those who manage lands in and near rights-of-way while providing essential habitat for the monarch and other pollinators.”

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, NGO or private individual or corporation. It memorializes the conservation commitment of the landowners, but unlike a CCAA, it does not provide assurances.

In this case, the agreement integrates both CCA and CCAA programs so energy and transportation partners and private landowners can provide conservation seamlessly throughout their properties, where there may be a mix of non-federal and federal lands.

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.

The Service is currently evaluating the monarch to determine whether listing under the act is appropriate.

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