In Seattle, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour extended an injunction stopping ranchers and farmers from tapping into the Critical Feed Use program. The judge ordered USDA and members of the National Wildlife Federation to find a compromise by noon on Tuesday. And thoughts are his decision will be handed down by the end of next week.
In the meantime, the judge is keeping in place a temporary restraining order he issued last week, after a suit was filed by the National Wildlife Federation and six affiliates over USDA's May decision to open up land now protected under the federal Conservation Reserve Program. They are concerned about damage to fragile habitat and other issues if producers are allowed to graze and cut hay on the land.
Under CRP, however, non-emergency grazing or haying must be mindful of soil conservation, water quality and the needs of wildlife that frequent protected areas. Some species of birds rely on specific types and amounts of grassland cover to survive the winter.
"Reversing the USDA decision at this late date would be the last straw for many cattle producers who are already on the brink of going out of business,” said Andy Groseta, NCBA president and cattle producer from Arizona. "With a continuing drought, historic feed costs and skyrocketing hay prices, cattle producers need this land to be able to feed their cattle as well as continue their land stewardship. The relationship between cattle producers and conservation has never been stronger, yet in today's economy we need to be able to both conserve and use the land. We ask that the court consider the impact that NWF's actions have caused to America's farmers and ranchers.”
Earlier this week, a coalition of livestock groups filed an Amici Curia brief in support of the USDA's release of 24 million acres of CRP ground for haying and grazing. The group included the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Idaho Cattle Association, Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Kansas Livestock Association, Nebraska Cattlemen, New Mexico Cattle Growers, Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Washington Cattlemen's Association, Washington Cattle Feeders Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council.