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Wyo. counties part of massive disaster declaration

More than half of U.S. counties, including some in Wyoming, now are classified by the federal government as natural disaster areas mostly because of the drought.

The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday added 218 counties in a dozen states as disaster areas. That brings this year’s total to 1,584 in 32 states, more than 90 percent of them because of the drought.

The latest additions make drought-affected farmers and ranchers eligible for federal aid including emergency loans.

The USDA also announced ranchers may access some 3.8 million acres of conservation land for haying and grazing, and crop insurance companies have agreed to provide farmers a penalty-free grace period on insurance premiums in 2012.

In Wyoming, the counties that are presently designated as primary natural disaster areas due to drought are Hot Springs, Laramie, Carbon, Sweetwater, Uinta, Lincoln, Sublette, Fremont, Albany, Converse, Platte, Goshen, Campbell, Crook, Niobrara and Weston.

Counties that are also eligible for federal aid because they are next to (contigious to) the primary natural disaster areas are Natrona, Washakie, Park, Teton, Sheridan and Johnson.

“This drought is not letting up and disaster assistance is one way to provide help,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said in a news release Thursday. ” Yesterday , I toured areas impacted by wildfires and it is clear that conditions in Wyoming are as dry as they have been in years.”

Mead wants all counties in Wyoming receive a drought disaster declaration, except for Teton County, which had not suffered grazing loss and dryland hay loss in excess of the disaster threshold, his office said. More Wyoming counties are likely to receive primary designation as federal officials review information related to the drought .

In addition to Wyoming, other states with counties included in the announcement are in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Some counties in southern Idaho are considered contigious disaster areas, but none have been classified as primary disaster areas so far.

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