The team adjusts hard hats and safety glasses. With drills at the ready, they head out into the field with more than 2,400 milkweed plugs in tow. It’s not an average workday for Associated Electric Cooperative employees at the Thomas Hill Energy Center, but then it’s not every day they’re called upon to help save a species from becoming endangered.
Wildlife scientists estimate the worldwide monarch butterfly population has been reduced by between 80 and 90 percent in the past 20 years due to habitat loss. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating whether it should be listed as a threatened or an endangered species. The agency’s decision is expected by June 2019. With new regulations also could come with additional expenses for the power supplier involved with delayed or canceled projects. Rather than pass the increased cost along to electric co-op members, AECI is tackling the problem head-on at its reclaimed Prairie Hill mine. The result is a win-win for monarchs and members.
“That’s where a lot of our concern comes in because if it’s listed, that could affect our co-ops with vegetation management in rights of way or just trying to build and maintain lines,” says Senior Environmental Analyst Rob LeForce. “Looking out for our members is what we’re all about. That’s why we do these things on the front end, to hopefully avoid all of that and make things much simpler.”
AECI is allocating $75,000 to develop the habitat, with $45,000 through a Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation grant and a budgeted $30,000, plus in-kind labor. The plantings at Thomas Hill continue the co-op’s long tradition of environmental stewardship, particularly when it comes to the monarch butterfly. AECI sponsored the Missouri Monarch and Pollinator Conservation Strategy in 2015 and serves on the steering committee of the Missourians for Monarchs collaborative.
Whether it’s for the quality of life in the cities or the benefit of agriculture in rural areas, there’s a Missouri-led movement to boost butterfly numbers and at the center is the Missouri Department of Conservation. From converting abandoned lots into greenspaces in the urban centers of Kansas City and St. Louis or landowners outside Kirksville reclaiming 10,000 acres of prairie grassland, MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley says there is an awareness building that the time to act is now.