Protecting the Pollinators

By Lucas Wandrie, Sr Wildlife Ecologist, WSB

Over the past few decades many populations of pollinating species (such as butterflies and bees) in the U.S. have declined significantly due to invasive pests and diseases, pesticides, herbicides, loss of habitat, and climate change. Due to these declines, efforts are being made to conserve, restore, and maintain habitats that are valuable to pollinators. These efforts include the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) led Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and the CCAA/Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) for bumble bees that is currently in development.

Monarch Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA)

The Monarch CCAA was finalized in April 2020. Since then participation and interest in the program from the energy and transportation sectors has grown with 20 energy and 15 transportation applicants throughout the U.S., thus far.

The Monarch CCAA program has been very successful. More than 815,000 adopted acres have been committed, of which more than 692,000 acres are under an active CCAA; far surpassing the adopted acres target of 215,000 acres.

If you are interested in applying for the Monarch CCAA, please note that a decision regarding the status of the monarch is expected in 2024. If the monarch is listed as threatened or endangered, no new Monarch CCAA applications will be accepted following its listing.

Bumble Bee CCAA/Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA)

Building on the success of the Monarch CCAA, the UIC and USFWS are exploring the creation of a companion agreement aimed at conserving habitats for six listed or petitioned for listing bumble bee species in North America. The Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA may be extended to cover six additional species in the future.

The proposed Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA would provide similar protections as those in the Monarch CCAA, thereunder an approved CCAA/SHA would allow for incidental take of species covered under the agreement for 25 years. With the updated USFWS rusty-patched bumble bee guidance and rulings of listing status for many bee species expected in 2024, the protection of incidental take permit would be valuable. Also, if the program is successful, some bumble bee species may not need to be listed.

There are 49 bumble bee species in the U.S. Since 2017, two have been listed as federally endangered. Most recently, four have been federally petitioned to be listed, five are at risk, and one was considered unwarranted for listing although it has experienced significant population declines. These 12 species comprise approximately 25 percent of the bumble bee species in the U.S. (Table 1). Species that are at risk, but not currently petitioned to be listed may be petitioned in the future if their populations continue to decline.   

Table 1. Bumble bee species being considered for coverage under the Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA and their respective ranges in the United States.
Rusty patched bumble bee Bombus affinisFederally endangeredFrom Minnesota to Missouri and to the east coast.
Franklin’s bumble bee B. frankliniFederally endangeredCalifornia and Oregon.
American bumble bee B. pennsylvanicusFederally petitionedMost of lower 48 states. Assumed to be extirpated from Oregon and Washington.
Variable cuckoo bumble bee B. variabilisFederally petitionedFrom the Midwest to the east coast and Colorado and Arizona.
Western bumble bee B. occidentalisFederally petitionedWestern U.S.
Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee B. suckleyiFederally petitionedMost of western U.S. and Alaska.
Yellow bumble bee B. fervidusAt risk, but not petitioned for listingWestern, Midwestern, and north-eastern portions of the U.S.
Cuckoo bumble bee B. bohemicus (formerly ashtoni)At risk, but not petitioned for listingNorthern half of the lower U.S. and Alaska.
Obscure bumble bee B. caliginosusAt risk, but not petitioned for listingCalifornia, Oregon, and Washington.
Southern plains bumble bee B. fraternusAt risk, but not petitioned for listingEast of the Rocky Mountains through the Great Plains region and east to New Jersey and central Florida.
Crotch’s bumble bee B. crotchiiAt risk, but not petitioned for listingCalifornia.
Yellow-banded bumble bee B. terricolaNot warrantedCurrent range is not known. Most recent records are from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Possibly extirpated from other states where it historically occurred.
Source: Nationwide CCAA for Monarch Butterfly (February 2022) Proposal for a Bumble Bee-Focused Combined Conservation Agreement.

Similarities and Differences between Monarch CCAA and Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA

Where Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA adopted acres overlap with Monarch CCAA adopted acres, the following measures are likely to overlap: the implementation and verification of conservation measures used, targeted herbicide application, timed mowing, and idle-habitat set-asides. Additional measures that will likely be required for these areas include the use of bee-preferred seed mixes, invasive species prevention, and the avoidance of commercial bee management.

Further comparisons between the Monarch CCAA and the Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA are provided in Table 2.

Table 2. Comparison of various aspects between the Monarch CCAA and Bumble Bee CCAA/SHA.
AspectMonarch CCAABumble Bee CCAA/SHA
EnrollmentEnrolled acres, including adopted acres.Commitment areas near known locations.
Tracking net benefitTrack conservation measures and adopted acres.Verify conservation measures used in mapped commitment areas.
MonitoringAssess milkweed and nectar plant presence.Assess flowering plant cover and diversity.
ReportingAnnual report describing sum of adopted acres, implementation, monitoring, changes, and challenges.Will be like the Monarch CCAA except for sum of commitment acres. Tracking will be simplified, monitoring protocol will be different, and reporting will be separate.
Section 7 complianceTiered approach to verify that actions avoid and minimize take to avoid impacting other listed species.Maintain consistency with the Monarch CCAA. Currently exploring additional Section 7 consultation for listed species.
Source: Nationwide CCAA for Monarch Butterfly (February 2022) Proposal for a Bumble Bee-Focused Combined Conservation Agreement.

Looking for more information?

Interested in learning more or getting involved in these programs? WSB natural resources staff are actively involved in these programs and have helped multiple entities through the Monarch CCAA application process and beyond.

Lucas has over 15 years of experience in wildlife ecology and consulting. His specialties include providing desktop and field-based wildlife services for wind and solar projects and has supported the successful completion of these projects in 34 states.

[email protected] | 612.452.0540

Related Insights

We've got our eyes on the horizon.

All Insights

Learn more from our industry leaders.

We are always looking forward to what is next in infrastructure, click here to read about more ways we are influencing the industry.

Read more