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Gazette State Bureau

HELENA - Since Montana's stubborn dry spell is likely to persist, Gov. Judy Martz has asked that the federal government not put an end to the state's natural disaster declaration for drought.

In a meeting in Washington, D.C., Sunday with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Martz asked for an extension of Montana's 2001 drought declaration, to include 2002. The declaration gives the state's agricultural producers access to loans and other assistance through the Farm Service Agency.

Martz also told the two secretaries that Montana producers are likely to ask permission to cut hay and graze livestock on land set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program. Because forage was scarce in 2001, many producers were allowed to use CRP rangeland to feed their livestock.

"This is a very unique request," said Martz spokeswoman Meta Boyer, who added she didn't know how long it might be before the state receives a response to the request.

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