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Colorado seeks to open land to farmers, ranchers

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado state officials are asking a federal judge to allow farmers and ranchers hit hard by drought to use land idled under a federal program for livestock grazing.

State Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp said Tuesday that his agency has filed a brief asking U.S. District Judge John Coughenour in Seattle to lift a temporary injunction stopping Conservation Reserve Program land from being opened nationwide for grazing.

The injunction imposed last week temporarily blocks an emergency program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for hay production and grazing. Coughenour scheduled a full hearing on the plan Thursday in the lawsuit by the National Wildlife Federation and some of its affiliates.

The injunction doesn’t affect six Colorado counties where rangeland was opened through an emergency order by the federal Farm Service Agency. But Stulp said farmers and ranchers across Colorado’s eastern plains are struggling to feed their livestock because of drought and are being prevented from using the Conservation Reserve Program land by the injunction.

“We have had calls from nearly all the counties in eastern Colorado,” Stulp said.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers not to plant crops to return fields to native vegetation. The land is important to wildlife.

The conservation groups suing to stop use of the land say the government should have done an environmental review before acting.

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.

Stulp said Prowers County, where he farms and ranches, has received less than 20 percent of the typical precipitation at least since the first of the year. He said some people are selling their animals or considering it.

“If this doesn’t work, people intend to sell a lot more livestock in the next couple weeks,” Stulp said. “It’s detrimental to the local economy.”


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