Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
A federal judge ruled against the U. S. Department of Agriculture Thursday, but will still allow some farmers and ranchers to hay or graze livestock on land enrolled in the Conservat ion Reserve Program through the provisions of Critical Feed Use. U. S . Di s t r i c t J u d ge Dav i d Coughenour ruled Thursday that USDA and the Farm Services Agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they approved letting farmers and ranchers in some parts of the country apply to use land enrolled in CRP. Some 10 to 20 Hill County farmers and ranchers were among the producers in 35 states who applied to do so. In Montana, applications to hay or graze in 90 CRP contracts totaling more than 14,000 acres were submitted. On June 27, the National Wildlife Federation and six of its state affiliates filed a lawsuit saying USDA and FSA had violated NEPA by not doing an environmental impact statement on the effect the program would have on soil conservation and wildlife habitat programs. In his injunction against the Critical Feed Use program, Coughenour said that applications already approved by FSA before he issued his temporary restraining order on July 8 may proceed with the approved activity, with some restraints imposed by his permanent injunction, issued Thursday. FSA may process and, where appropriate, approve applications that were received before the July 8 injunction but not yet approved, Coughenour said. No additional applications to hay or graze may be accepted by the FSA unless the applicant can prove an investment of $4,500 or more has made because the applicant intended to hay or graze under the Critical Feed Use provision, Coughenour said. He also made orders on the end dates and frequency of haying and grazing. All haying or grazing was originally required to wait until the end of critical nesting season for birds on the CRP, which ends on Aug. 1 in Montana. For applications approved before the July 8 injunction, all haying and grazing must end by the original date, Nov. 10. For applications approved after the ruling Thursday, all haying in the Critical Feed Use modification must end by Sept. 30 and all grazing must be completed by Oct. 15. Applicants participating may not hay or graze CRP land again except pursuant to managed haying or grazing modifications under FSA regulations. Coughenour ordered that no rental reduction on the CRP land hayed or grazed would be assessed, although the applicant must pay or have paid the $75 processing fee under the Critical Feed Use original provisions.