July 24, 2008

Wildlife Group in Washington State Sues to Keep Cows From Grazing on Protected Land

By Janice Francis-Smith

Saving protected lands means putting cows in danger, say opponents to a lawsuit filed by an environmental group in Washington state. A ruling from U.S. District Judge John Coughenour is expected today.

The National Wildlife Federation sued to keep federal officials from opening up Conservation Reserve Program acres to Midwestern ranchers suffering from the drought. Cattle in drought areas would otherwise have little to eat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided in May to allow haying and grazing on CRP acres. Ranchers in Oklahoma and Texas in particular have seen available forage dwindle to almost nothing in the last few years due to lack of moisture, and so welcomed the invitation to hay or turn their cattle out on government lands. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has granted a disaster declaration for nine counties in Oklahoma, suffering under what Gov. Brad Henry said "may be the worst drought in our history."

On July 8, Judge Coughenour issued a temporary restraining order at the request of the National Wildlife Federation and seven state affiliates, preventing ranchers from continuing to use the federal land. The decision was widely criticized by members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation and advocates for farmers and ranchers. The judge encouraged the parties to reach a compromise, suggesting a cap on total acreage made available for grazing and haying.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture issued a friend of the court brief arguing for continued access to the land.

Originally published by Janice Francis-Smith.

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