Commissioner Todd Staples filed an affidavit on behalf of Texas producers who will suffer severe economic hardships if a recent restraining order issued by a U.S. District Court judge becomes permanent. The National Wildlife Federation is asking the court to suspend the use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for Critical Feed Use (CFU).
In May the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the CFU program would take effect on July 2 in Texas, after the primary nesting season for birds on conservation acres ended. This program would have provided livestock grazing and haying access to portions of approximately four million protected acres in Texas. The program was designed to alleviate livestock feed needs for producers driven by feed shortages resulting from drought and escalating feed costs. However, the court’s order took effect on July 8, requiring producers in Texas to immediately halt their utilization of the program after they had already begun accessing approximately 600,000 acres of land.
“Many Texas livestock producers could lose their livelihood if not allowed to use this grazing land. This year high feed costs and drought have hit our producers hard. Now reversing the decision on opening up this land could be the third strike that drives them out of business,” Commissioner Todd Staples said. “The federal government made these producers a promise; it would be irresponsible for the courts to go back on that word.”
Texas producers already banking on the federally protected land opening up made business decisions based upon the May announcement of the CFU program, which resulted in livestock being kept in inventory that otherwise would have gone to market. As a result, producers have incurred additional feed costs to maintain those herds until the July entry date.
Although it is the National Wildlife Federation who is pursuing this case against cattlemen, the Texas Wildlife Association supports Commissioner Staples in this effort.
“Private landowners are the true stewards of wildlife habitat in Texas,” Kirby Brown, Executive Vice President of the Texas Wildlife Association said. “When our livestock producers couple that natural stewardship with the protections for wildlife already provided by USDA in the Critical Feed Use program, we are confident that wildlife habitat is not only preserved but enhanced. We urge the court to remove the restraining order and let Texas wildlife stewards continue to manage their CRP lands in an environmentally sensitive way.”
“Producers have spent thousands of dollars to use CRP land for grazing to help offset high feed costs,” Jon Means of Van Horn, President of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said. “It is wrong to change the rules in the middle of the game on hard working producers.”
A hearing is scheduled for today, July 17th, to determine whether claims supporting the National Wildlife Federation restraining order are valid. The restraining order only applies to CFU acres; managed and emergency CRP haying and grazing efforts are not affected.
A copy of Commissioner Staples’ affidavit is available online.