Ag Secretary Endangers 24 Million Acres|Of Grasslands, Environmentalists Say

     SEATTLE (CN) – The Secretary of Agriculture illegally authorized grazing and haying on 24 million acres of grasslands in the Conservation Reserve Program, endangering soil, animals, water quality and habitat “at a scale never before seen in the 23-year-old history of the program,” the National Wildlife Federation claims in Federal Court.

     It claims the secretary did this by illegally using a clause meant to be used to modify contracts.
     The Conservation Reserve Program is the nation’s largest private land conservation program. Through it, the USDA pays farmers about $1.8 billion a year to establish and maintain perennial cover on 34 million acres of private farmlands, about 90% of it grasslands. The Conservation Reserve Program was established by the 1985 Farm Bill.
     On May 27, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer misused his power to modify contracts by authorizing haying and grazing on 24 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, the complaint states. The illegal authorization will endanger ground nesting birds that are specifically protected by the program, plaintiffs say.
     The action violates the National Environmental Policy Act and was done without consideration of any, environmentally responsible, alternatives or analysis, and without public notices, the plaintiffs say.
     They demand declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs include the NWF state branches in Indiana, South Dakota, Washington, Louisiana, Kansas, and Nebraska.

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