Judge issues restraining order stopping emergency grazing on CRP
By Jennifer M. Latzke
A U.S. District Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order that stops emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres. Late Tuesday, July 8, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington, Seattle, granted a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Services Agency, effectively stopping the Critical Feed Use provisions set forth.
The order, filed on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation and six of its affiliates, stops USDA from processing or approving any additional CRP contract modifications that allow haying or grazing. It also further ordered the USDA to contact those CRP participants already haying or grazing lands that they must remove cattle and halt haying operations immediately.
FSA offices have already begun notifying producers of the restraining order.
This decision affects 24 million acres of CRP land that was opened to Critical Feed Use provisions by the USDA May 27. The opening of those acres was to occur after the primary nesting season had ended for grass-nesting birds. The acres were to provide feed and forage to alleviate the escalating price of feed for livestock producers. Several states had begun opening up their CRP acres as of July 2, including Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Colorado was set to begin activity July 15. Texas, the largest state has 583,000 acres available for signup in the program, followed by Colorado with 253,000 acres, Oklahoma with 210,00 acres, and and New Mexico with 177,000 acres.
Congressman Jerry Moran, R-KS, is a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture, and released a statement early July 10 regarding the order.
"It is unfortunate that this action has taken place especially in this late hour after producers have made stocking decisions," Moran said. "I am working with USDA officials to determine ways to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. I am also considering legislative action. This is an example of an environmental group obstructing legitimate agriculture policy decisions."
The National Wildlife Federation, with 14 other conservation groups, wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, July 9. The letter urged him to reject pressure from Congress and other producer groups "to allow the penalty-free early release of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)."
"A penalty-free early release of the magnitude you are considering-millions of acres-would deliver a devastating blow to the nation's soil, water, and wildlife habitat, and significantly increase global warming," said the letter.
"Because most CRP lands are marginal for cropping, even if all CRP acres were brought back into commodity production, the impact on aggregate commodity supplies and prices would be modest… We urge you to protect the taxpayers' investment in soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat and not allow landowners to leave CRP contracts early without fully reimbursing the Treasury for the taxpayer-funded investment in those lands."
The letter opposing these proposals is signed by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation. This temporary order is for 10 days, with an argument on the motion for preliminary injunction set for July 17. The USDA has until July 13 to file a response to the preliminary injunction.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.