Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
A meeting that could determine the future of managed haying and grazing on Montana land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program is scheduled for Thursday in Great Falls, one of 13 such meetings in the nation. Glenn Patrick, conservation specialist for Montana’s State Office of the Farm Services Agency, said the meeting is being held to collect public comments on a recommendation that Montana return to a schedule for managed haying and grazing that was in place before a lawsuit filed by the National Wildlife Federation resulted in a settlement reducing the times and frequencies allowed. “Basically, that’s the recommendation our state FSA committee has made back to Washington and that’s the reason for the session,” Patrick said. The public comment is being collected as part of an environmental assessment on the impacts of changing the allowed times and frequencies of haying and grazing on CRP land. FSA is conducting environmental assessments on the proposed changes in 13 states, with each assessment specific to the state in question. The other states are Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Patrick said that once all comments are collected, FSA will have to finalize the environmental assessment, after which the state technical advisory committee will make a recommendat ion to the state FSA Committee. If all of the steps proceed fairly quickly, a decision could be made this year, he said. CRP was originally started to reduce soil erosion and promote conservation. In return for rental payments from the federal government, producers retire eligible cropland from active production, planting vegetation to reduce erosion. In recent years, the focus of the program has increased to include more promotion of wildlife habitat. Starting in 2004, producers were allowed to let livestock graze some of the land in CRP and also to harvest hay on some of the land. In order to Reduce impacts on nesting seasons of native birds, FSA and wildlife groups originally agreed to exclude May 15 to July 15 from the time allowed for haying and grazing, and to allow managed grazing only once every three years and managed haying only once every five years. In the settlement with the National Wildlife Federation, the nesting season was changed to exclude haying and grazing from May 14 to Aug. 1, and allowed grazing only once every five years and haying once every 10 years. Patrick said that the longer exclusion has essentially well precluded haying and grazing in the state, because the vegetation on the land is pretty well dried up and has little nutritional value by Aug. 2. He added that a producer in Liberty County told him Thursday that while some haying had occurred in the county with the May 15 to July 15 exclusion, nothing was hayed in the county last year under the later exclusion. Patrick said FSA hopes to hear comments from a wide variety of sources, including agriculture producers, wildlife associations and anyone with concerns on the issue. “We’re going to take a look at every aspect, not just what the producers’ comments are,” he said. FSA will also accept comments through the close of the business day on April 19 in writing and via e-mail about the issue. Send direct comments to: MHG Eas, Geo-Marine Inc, 2713 Magruder Blvd. , Sui te D, Hampton, Va. 23666-1572 or via e-mail at the Web site http://public.geo-marine.com. FSA is hosting the meeting starting at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Hampton Inn, 2301 14th St. S.W., in Great Falls, (406) 453-2657. Anyone calling the hotel about the meeting is asked to refer to the Farm Service Agency as the sponsor. On the Net: Montana Farm Service Agency Web site: www.fsa.usda.gov/ mt.