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Governor Declares Drought Disaster

Governor Declares Drought Disaster

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Mike Leavitt has declared a statewide agricultural disaster, requesting more federal money to help with losses attributed to the drought.

The declaration was signed by Leavitt and sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. He signed a similar declaration last year.

All of the state is labeled as in either extreme or exceptional drought, the highest levels, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's drought monitor.

The USDA provided $1.24 million to Utah earlier this month to help farmers and ranchers adopt water conservation technologies and deter long-term impacts of the drought.

The governor said the low snowpack and spring runoff along with hot, dry winds and insect infestations have exacerbated the agricultural woes.

State and federal officials outlined the problems during the Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee meeting Wednesday.

The lack of grazing land and inadequate irrigation water are results of the drought, said Kyle Stephens, deputy commissioner for Utah's department of agriculture and food.

Natural resource specialists downplayed the benefits of the recent rains.

"The drought is alive and well," said Randy Julander of the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service.

While May has had 250 percent of its average precipitation, the snow pack is at least 65 percent depleted throughout the state and is completely gone in some areas. This leaves only a third the snowpack left when state rivers have only begun to reach average flows, Julander said.

It would take at least half an inch of rain each week, geographically widespread, to even negate drought impacts. The probability of that is about as close to zero as you can get," he said.

Julander said that in nearly 500 years, there have been only three droughts as long as this one.

The situation for wildlife in the state also is bad. Elk and mule deer populations are down and expected to decrease, said Kevin Conway of the division of wildlife resources.

"In many parts of the state, reproduction is almost nonexistent," he said. "I think our big game are taking a much bigger brunt of the drought than our fisheries."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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