Colo. ag chief blasts keeping rangeland off limits |

Colo. ag chief blasts keeping rangeland off limits

DENVER ” A federal judge’s decision to maintain a temporary injunction blocking farmers and ranchers from using land set aside for conservation is unfortunate, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp said.

Conservation Reserve Program lands in Colorado and across the country were to be opened for emergency livestock grazing and hay production earlier this week. Stulp said many farmers and ranchers were counting on using the land to get them through tough times.

Stulp’s agency filed a brief asking U.S. District Judge John Coughenour in Seattle to lift a temporary injunction stopping the CRP land from being opened nationwide for grazing. He said livestock producers across Colorado’s eastern plains are struggling with drought and some are selling their animals.

“Agriculture is a $16 billion industry in Colorado,” Stulp said.. “Because of the cost to supplement feed, many farmers and ranchers have been selling off their herds, and that hurts the entire industry and Colorado’s economy.”

Coughenour extended his temporary restraining order until next Tuesday.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers not to plant crops to return fields to native vegetation. About 760,000 farmers have enrolled 34 million acres in the program . The government pays them rent for the land and provides financial assistance for conservation efforts.

The land is important to wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation and some of its affiliates sued to stop its use, saying the federal government should have done a more thorough environmental analysis.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in May that it would allow farmers and ranchers nationwide to sue some of the CRP land for grazing and raising hay to help deal with rising grain and food prices.

The injunction imposed by Coughenour doesn’t affect six Colorado counties where rangeland was opened through an emergency order by the federal Farm Service Agency.

Some of the CRP land was opened in Yuma and Phillips counties in northeast Colorado because of flooding in adjoining Nebraska areas. Sites were made available for emergency grazing and hay production in four drought-stricken southeast Colorado counties ” Baca, Bent, Kiowa, Prowers.

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