Skip to Content

FAQ: December 2020 ESA Listing Decision for Monarch Butterflies

Dec 16, 2020


  • Important Monarch News

On December 15, 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that listing the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) under the Endangered Species Act is warranted but precluded. You can read the press release from the USFWS here. Monarch Joint Venture's blog post exploring what this decision means for monarchs is available here.  

What does “warranted but precluded” mean?

“Warranted but precluded” means that the USFWS found through the Species Status Assessment (SSA) that listing the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, but that there are other, higher priority, listing actions that take precedence at this time. This makes monarch butterflies a “candidate species” that are re-evaluated annually for potential listing. The monarch will remain a candidate species until it is determined that listing is warranted, or that current conservation actions have recovered the population enough that listing is not warranted. Learn more about candidate species.

How is priority established for species considered for listing under the ESA?

The USFWS has developed a 5-year National Listing Workplan to help guide listing decisions and prioritize the needs of current petitioned and candidate species. In general, when deciding which species to list, the USFWS uses a priority system that looks first at the degree of threat to the species, followed by the immediacy of the threat and the species’ taxonomic distinctiveness. The overall goal is to direct efforts towards species with the greatest need, using the National Listing Workplan to help manage the process. Learn more about the National Listing Workplan and listing a species. Learn more about how the USFWS determined priority status for monarchs.

Will there be regulations?

As a candidate species, there are no legal regulations for the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. However, interim programs and projects that work towards the recovery of monarch butterflies will be put in place through the Candidate Conservation Program. This program allows the Service to work with partners to improve monarch habitat and address threats to the population, while also continuing to review the status of the population. Learn more about the Candidate Conservation Program.

There may be future official regulations if the monarch is re-evaluated and the USFWS finds that listing is warranted. While we wait for a re-evaluation of monarchs, we must continue to increase voluntary conservation actions across their range.

When would we expect the listing process to continue?

In general, candidate species are re-evaluated annually, with a more thorough review happening less frequently, usually every five years. The USFWS states that they plan to propose the monarch for listing in fiscal year 2024 if listing is still warranted (as prioritized by the National Listing Workplan).   

What happens in the meantime?

The USFWS has developed the Candidate Conservation Program to support candidate species awaiting ESA protections. Outside of the USFWS, candidate species status often brings renewed focus on the need for support, opens new opportunities for funding, and is an opportunity for the conservation community to scale up voluntary efforts. The aim of these interim strategies is to bolster monarch populations until they receive federal protections, or to improve their numbers so as to preclude the need for listing altogether. 

The USFWS will also continue to maintain the Monarch Conservation Database. Information entered here will be accessible to researchers who are using the data to track where conservation efforts, actions, and plans are occurring. The USFWS may also use this data to update the monarch butterfly Species Status Assessment (SSA). 

What tools can I use to help protect myself or my organization?

A Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) is a great tool for non-Federal landowners to engage in voluntary conservation efforts and know what to expect if the monarch does eventually become listed under the ESA. Under a CCAA, the landowner agrees to certain conservation practices and is assured that they would not be held to any additional regulations that might be announced in a future listing. Learn more about CCAAs and the Energy and Transportation CCAA that already exists to support monarch conservation efforts.

For public or private lands projects completed in collaboration with Federal agencies, Section 7 of the ESA allows for formal consultations between USFWS and other agencies. This may result in a Conference Report. An example of this is the Monarch Butterfly Conference Report that was developed in 2016 as an agreement between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the USFWS. This report creates assurances for landowners proactively and voluntarily implementing select monarch-friendly conservation practice standards under the Farm Bill. It also creates predictability on what conservation practices will be expected if the monarch is listed under the ESA.

Will MJV’s approach or strategies change?

No. Our vision is thriving monarch populations that sustain the monarch migration into perpetuity and serve as a flagship for the conservation of other plants and animals. We will continue to work towards this vision by collaborating with partners to deliver habitat conservation, education, and science across the United States.

What are the most important actions I can take now?

We need all hands on deck to support continued voluntary conservation actions while we await a status review of the monarch butterflies. Below are a few actions you can take today:

  1. Create pollinator habitat
  2. Get involved with monarch community science in your area.
  3. Track your conservation efforts using the Monarch Conservation Database or the HabiTally app (available for iOS and Android devices)..
  4. Spread awareness about monarch declines and conservation opportunities.
  5. Support organizations working to protect pollinators.


For more information about this recent ESA listing decision, check out Questions and Answers: 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly from the USFWS, watch for more updates on the USFWS monarch butterfly page, or email additional questions to


The Monarch Joint Venture is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Cover photo by Wendy Caldwell.