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News from the Conservation Community...

National Wildlife Federation Plans to File Suit Against USDA

June 22, 2004—Implementation and management of the 2002 Farm Bill’s CRP continues to be questioned between conservationists and federal administrators.  The lack of clarity and action has led the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to prepare a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in an attempt to control managed haying and grazing that might harm nesting waterfowl and other birds.  If USDA does not correct their plan, NWF will file the suit in federal court.  As a last step to avoid litigation, NWF has sent a draft copy of a complaint to USDA to see whether a negotiated settlement might be possible.

Managed haying and grazing of CRP can be allowed under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 so long as it is consistent with conservation objectives, including the maintenance of wildlife habitat.  Many state fish and wildlife agencies and conservation organizations have also questioned USDA’s implementation of the new managed haying and grazing provisions.

According to NWF officials, USDA is allowing haying and grazing of lands enrolled in the program during primary waterfowl, upland game bird, and songbird nesting seasons. NWF also is concerned about the frequency of managed haying and grazing because mowing operations kill or displace nesting birds, and the grassland cover that is lost provides shelter from spring storms and predators—all factors that impact nesting bird populations.

The NWF contends these actions to be illegal based on several factors: the failure of the USDA to perform proper environmental assessments of these actions, provide public notice and comment, and articulate satisfactory rationale for permitting haying and grazing beyond written statutes.

According to the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, the Secretary of Agriculture has authority to permit haying and grazing only where it is consistent with the conservation of soils, water quality, and wildlife habitat, including during nesting seasons for birds in the area.

Most conservationists agree with NWF that the solution to prevent abuses of the CRP managed haying and grazing provisions would be to avoid the prime waterfowl, upland game and songbird nesting seasons and to tailor grazing and haying to better science.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is an incentive for private landowners to restore and conserve wildlife habitat---an annual per acre rental payment is received for retiring cropland from production for 10-15 years. CRP is largest private lands conservation program and is the most important USDA program for waterfowl breeding areas in the United States.  CRP has added 12.4 million birds to the waterfowl population that migrates south in fall.

To learn more about CRP: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm
For more information, contact: Bob Benson; 901-758-3859, bbenson@ducks.org.


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