Judge Issues Permanent Injunction to Stop Widespread Haying and Grazing on CRP Lands

Court ruling is a victory for wildlife conservation

07-24-2008 // Julie Sibbing

WASHINGTON, DC -- A U.S. District judge today issued a permanent injunction against the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) program allowing widespread haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands. The injunction allows those who have already applied to the program or who have made farming decisions based on it to move forward, but forbids opening additional Conservation Reserve Program lands.

The Honorable John C. Coughenour ruled for the plaintiffs — the National Wildlife Federation, Indiana Wildlife Federation, South Dakota Wildlife Federation, Washington Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Louisiana Wildlife Federation and Kansas Wildlife Federation--finding that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to study the environmental impacts of its action before implementing the program. The decision reduces the number of acres open to increased haying grazing from 24 million to less than 2 million.

"USDA tried to turn one of America's most important conservation programs into a farm subsidy program, putting wildlife at risk throughout the country," said Tom France, Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation's Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center and lead counsel on the case. "Today's ruling sends a clear message to USDA that it must follow the law in reviewing potential harmful impacts to wildlife and habitat before it makes sweeping decisions."

"Judge Coughenour's opinion guarantees that conservation remains the top priority and purpose of the Conservation Reserve Program, while taking into account the financial needs of the landowners already invested in opening their lands to increased haying and grazing," said Julie Sibbing, Senior Program Manager for Agriculture Policy at the National Wildlife Federation. "We hope in the future USDA will follow the law and conduct a proper environmental assessment before it implements new policies regarding Conservation Reserve Program lands."

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is America's largest private lands conservation program, covering nearly 35 million acres of land. Farmers enrolled in the program help provide wildlife habitat, protect wetlands, and keep over 450 million tons of topsoil, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer out of rivers every year. On May 27, the USDA announced plans to allow landowners holding CRP contracts to modify their contracts, without reimbursing taxpayers, allowing haying or grazing on 24 million acres of habitat this year.
The National Wildlife Federation and six affiliate organizations filed suit against the USDA on June 30, arguing that the agency failed to look at the environmental impacts of the action as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. On July 8, the court issued a temporary restraining to halt the program.

'The USDA wanted to sacrifice decades of progress for small, short term gains," said Ben Deeble, biologist for the National Wildlife Federation. "For wildlife like the greater sage-grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse that are struggling in many places, we have an obligation to avoid any action that might push them closer to extinction. For other species like several types of ducks that are produced in abundance on CRP habitats, we should maintain this bounty."

The judge ordered the following as part of the injunction:

  • In recognition of the good faith of those who acted in reliance on USDA's authority to issue contract modifications related to the critical feed use program, all those who had applied for contract modifications prior to the judge's issuance of a temporary restraining order on July 8th, (1.78 million acres) may proceed to hay and graze these lands.
  • No additional applications for the critical feed use program may be accepted by the Farm Service Agency unless the applicant can make a showing of having invested at least $4,500 in anticipation of participating in the program. For these additional applicants, all haying shall be completed prior to September 15 and all grazing shall be completed by October 15, 2008.
  • Those who participate in the critical feed use program cannot hay or graze lands enrolled in CRP again except pursuant to a managed haying or grazing contract modification that is consistent with previously established standards for CRP haying and grazing.

The injunction will not affect the carefully balanced, "managed haying and grazing" or "emergency haying and grazing" already allowed on CRP lands, which is not opposed by the National Wildlife Federation.

National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

Tom France: (406) 541-6706, france@nwf.org
Julie Sibbing: (202) 797-6832, sibbing@nwf.org

Related Resources
  • Supporting Document
    Grazing Order  (pdf)

    Injunction stops grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands.

Get Our E-Newsletter 
Subscribe to National Wildlife Magazine!