“Let’s talk butterflies,” said Hubbard County Public Works Coordinator Jed Nordin.

He was speaking to county commissioners at their April 13 work session.

“This is becoming a hot topic with some of the counties, and I’m sure with some of the states,” he said.

Nordin shared a PowerPoint presentation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).

The eastern monarch butterfly has experienced an 80 percent decline in population over the last 20 years. “That’s justification enough that there’s a concern with this,” Nordin said.

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Potentially, the monarch could be included on the FWS’ threatened or endangered species list around 2024 or 2025.

Minnesota is considered summer breeding habitat in the monarch’s migration. Key threats to habitat loss are land conversion, herbicide use and mowing.

The county’s road expansions, rights-of-way or easements fall into the category of land conversion. Nordin said, “This does have ramifications on (road) projects, especially if there’s federal funding involved.”

Meanwhile, mowing county ditches is part of routine maintenance. Nordin said the county highway department hears complaints about too much mowing – and, on the flip side, too little mowing.

With a CCAA, the county could submit “enrolled acres” to the FWS. “Pretty much everything that’s enrollable for us is our county road rights-of-way,” Nordin explained.

Hubbard County would then agree to apply conservation measures “to create, enhance, restore, sustain or maintain habitat that supports monarch butterfly breeding/foraging requirements” to 5 percent of its total enrolled acres. These are called “adopted acres.”

The benefit to the county, Nordin continued, is that it would receive assurance from the FWS “that additional conservation measures above and beyond those contained in the agreement will not be required for monarch butterflies and that additional land, water or resources use limitations will not be imposed on the enrolled lands, should the species become listed in the future.”

Nordin said Hubbard County has roughly 523 centerline miles of county roads, both paved and gravel. This equals 4,184 acres of rights-of-way that could be enrolled in CCAA. Five percent of that is 209 adopted acres.

Nordin said conservation measures would likely be as follows:

  • Defer mowing/haying before May 15, from June 30 to July 5 and after Sept. 20. “We don’t do mowing before May 15 anyway,” Nordin said, and residents prefer mowing later in the summer season.

  • Localized herbicide treatment of noxious/invasive weeds versus broadcast treatments. Nordin said he spoke to ag inspector Greg Hensel, who noted this creates problems but is do-able.

  • Clearing woody plants and brush to maintain “early succession” habitat. “Milkweed grows well in road rights-of-way where there’s nothing hindering them, as far as tree, brush growth, so we’d continue to brush those areas,” Nordin said.

Hubbard County would be responsible for tracking and reporting its conservation efforts.

Nordin estimated the implementation cost at $10,000 to $20,000, with an $8,000 annual cost.

“It’s certainly not free, and it’s not cheap,” he said.

County construction and maintenance could operate “as normal” on enrolled acres.

If the county doesn’t enter a CCAA prior to the monarch being listed as endangered, “now all of sudden, it brings in a whole set of different rules that we have to play in,” Nordin said. “You’d have to do a habitat conservation plan for any project that would affect it,” likely causing road construction project delays.

A potential “con,” Nordin said, is UTV/ATV restrictions on adopted acres. A CAA also creates a “weak federal nexus,” meaning the county would also protect habitat of the northern long-eared bat.

Nordin said he would gather more information about potential costs and impact on county manpower, then return to the board.