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Court Injunction Puts CRP Release on Hold
A federal court has temporarily halted an emergency release of conservation lands for livestock feed.
The Seattle Times reported Thursday that U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour has ordered a temporary injunction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) planned Aug. 2 release of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for emergency haying and grazing.
The judge's injunction came in response to a lawsuit filed by the National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates, which claim that the federal government failed to perform an environmental impact assessment before ordering the release.
The USDA announced in May that it would allow an emergency release of all CRP acres for haying and grazing after the primary nesting season for birds is completed, on Aug. 2. The plan would bring relief to livestock producers who have been suffering under high costs of feed and forage.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, responded Thursday to a request for comment by Iowa Independent.
"I am strongly supportive of the Conservation Reserve Program, and also of reasonable access to these acres for responsible grazing and haying where that is needed," said Harkin in an e-mail statement. "What's before the court involves essentially legal questions whether the USDA went about its decisions and policy in the proper ways. These are matters under litigation and I will await the decisions of the courts."
The court injunction does not block the opening of CRP acres for grazing in presidential disaster areas, a separate early release of CRP acres that was announced by the USDA this week. That release affected 97 of Iowa's 99 counties, allowing emergency livestock grazing on CRP acres but not allowing the acres to be harvested for hay.
Iowa has approximately 1.8 million acres of land enrolled in the CRP program. When enrolled in the program, landowners sign 10- to 15-year contracts with the USDA and agree to leave the acres out of production. The farmers receive a payment from the government, and the program protects environmentally sensitive land and provides wildlife habitat. But CRP acres can be opened up for production when deemed necessary by the USDA.
In an article on the Brownfield Network Web site, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said he was "disappointed" in the judge's decision and also disappointed in the National Wildlife Federation for taking the legal action.
Coughenour is expected to hold a hearing on July 17, when a final decision on the injunction will be made.