ATC joins nationwide effort to help monarch butterflies
Pewaukee, Wis. – ATC is joining a new nationwide effort to restore and increase the monarch butterfly population.
The monarch butterfly population has shrunk by 80% in the eastern United States since the 1990s due to the loss of habitat and food sources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the monarch butterfly as threatened or endangered by 2024.
One of Wisconsin’s first utilities to join the National Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Energy and Transportation Lands, ATC also was one of 45 energy companies and transportation companies who worked with the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group to develop the voluntary conservation agreement.
Approved by the USFWS in April 2020, the CCAA is the largest agreement of its kind ever developed and represents an unprecedented cross-section collaboration between industries and the USFWS. Over the next two decades the agreement is expected to grow to include millions of acres of land managed nationally by energy companies and departments of transportation across the United States.
Enhancing grid reliability and pollinator habitat
The CCAA recognizes the important work that organizations like ATC are already doing for the monarch butterfly and other pollinators, and it provides an incentive to institutionalize beneficial vegetation management practices.
“Much of the habitat conservation potential of the CCAA already exists in our vegetation management practices,” said Michelle Stokes, ATC’s director of field services. “These practices help ATC prevent tree and power line interactions, maintain compliance with regulations, and increase the reliability of the electric grid.”
ATC’s integrated vegetation management practices already help make its transmission lines rights-of-way suitable for pollinators. Roughly 40% of the over 10,000 miles of transmission line right-of-way ATC manages may currently serve as suitable pollinator habitat and our practices help make these areas suitable for pollinators who benefit from the contiguous flight path that the company’s rights-of-way provide. The company also developed a first-of-its-kind model to map and identify existing suitable pollinator habitat and gaps in pollinator pathways along its transmission lines.
ATC works to ensure that adequate clearances between transmission lines, trees and other vegetation are maintained at all times. To achieve safe clearances in the rights‑of‑way, incompatible vegetation is pruned or removed. Vegetation that is likely to re-sprout after cutting may be treated with herbicides to inhibit re-growth. Targeted herbicides use can help promote the growth of compatible vegetation that can thrive and support a suitable habitat for pollinators like the monarch butterfly and other wildlife.
Existing activities support butterfly habitat
Organizations enrolling in the CCAA also commit to implementing conservation measures that address the key threats under their control and to promote diverse breeding and foraging habitat for the monarch butterfly. These measures include activities ATC is already undertaking like seeding and planting with pollinator mixes, setting aside undisturbed areas for habitat, targeted herbicide application, and conservation mowing activities to minimize impacts to the monarch butterfly.
ATC has used pollinator-enhanced seed mix on over 800 acres of land as part of construction projects since it started tracking acres seeded since 2016. The company has also helped over 30 entities that allow public access to our rights-of-way develop roughly 275 acres of pollinator habitat through our Pollinator Habitat grant program since 2017.
For the past eight years, ATC has helped educate landowners about low-growing, pollinator-friendly perennials and grasses can grow and thrive within transmission line rights-of-way through its Grow Smart® program. The company’s four-acre native prairie surrounding its Pewaukee, Wis., headquarters has been certified as a native landscape by the Wildlife Habitat Council since 2018.
Anyone can grow food for monarch butterflies and caterpillars. Milkweed plants – like butterfly weed, common milkweed and swamp milkweed – are the only food source for monarch butterflies. However, adult monarch butterflies can get the nectar they need from many flowering plants. ATC’s Grow Smart Planting Guide provides recommendations on what to plant to support pollinators.