Trump Directs USDA to Open Restricted Lands for Grazing After Wildfires

scorched prairie Michael SchumacherAP
Michael Schumacher/AP

President Donald Trump directed the U.S.D.A. to open up lands restricted by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in three states that lost millions of acres and thousands of head of livestock from wildfires.

“After touring a family ranch in Ashland, Kan., reporter Jack Healy wrote in the New York Times: ‘Dozens of their Angus cows lay dead on the blackened ground, hooves jutting in the air. Others staggered around like broken toys, unable to see or breathe, their black fur and dark eyes burned, plastic identification tags melted to their ears. Young calves lay dying,’” the In These Times website posted in a report on the wildfires.

“In cases such as this, the mortally injured animals are shot,” In These Times reported. “Ranchers are then tasked with burying or otherwise removing the carcasses strewn across the landscape.

“Depending on the size of the herd lost, this grizzly chore can take weeks,” In These Times reported.

“Ranchers are facing devastating conditions and economic calamity because of these wildfires and they need some relief, or else they face the total loss of their herds in many cases,” Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young said in a press release announcing the action.

The agency has to get direction from the president to lift the restrictions, said to be to in place to “improve wildlife resources.”

The press release said:

The USDA action is required to direct the Farm Service Agency to permit the grazing on lands covered by the CRP, which exists to conserve and improve wildlife resources. In this case, the grazing will overlap with the primary nesting season of the lesser prairie chicken. CRP has procedures in place, already developed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to permit emergency grazing on protected lands during nesting season.

The governors of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico sent a letter last month to Young asking that restrictions to the CRP be lifted to provide more land for grazing, the Cattle Network reported. The governors wrote:

These fires have also devastated critical infrastructure, including fencing, on farms and ranches in our states. The Emergency Conservation Program provides critical financial resources to affected farmers and ranchers to rebuild fences. We urge the Farm Service Agency to expedite the implementation of the Emergency Conservation program in our states.

U.S.D.A. lifted the restrictions for three states — Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.

Losses in Kansas include 630,000 acres, 3,000 to 9,000 head of cattle, and $36 million in fencing. Oklahoma suffered the loss of 389,533 acres, 3,000 head of cattle, $2 million in lost structures, and $22 million in fencing. In Texas, 555,000 acres were burned, affecting 346 farms and ranches; 3,000 cattle and 1,900 swine were lost and owners are still unable to access the damage done to thousands of miles of fencing.

In 2012 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a two-month extension for emergency grazing “to provide assistance to producers impacted by the drought, which has included opening CRP and other conservation acres to emergency haying and grazing, lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, and working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers.”


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