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Wisconsin officials act to help Northern Plains drought 

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is taking steps to make it easier for farmers in his state to help out their drought-stricken colleagues in the Northern Plains.

Walker on Wednesday declared a 30-day "state of emergency" for the purpose of transporting loads of forage to North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The states have been dealing with extreme drought this summer that has devastated crops and forced many ranchers to sell off cattle.

State agriculture and transportation officials in Wisconsin are relaxing certain commercial driving restrictions and fees to aid the transport of hay and other forage west.

"Wisconsin farmers are generously offering to donate their forage to help out farm families in these states, and this order will allow them to transport their donations through the state more easily while still maintaining safety," Walker said in a statement. "Wisconsin farmers want to do their part to help their neighbors, and the state is going to do its part, too."

North Dakota's Agriculture Department, North Dakota State University and the Michigan-based nonprofit Ag Community Relief earlier this month announced a program to accept hay donations at a site near the university's Fargo campus. The feed will be distributed to needy producers in the three states through a lottery drawing.

Applications from ranchers in all three states are being taken at the North Dakota Agriculture Department's website through the end of this month, with the first hay drawing in early September. More drawings will be held as donations allow.

Demand for hay has pushed prices in the region to as much as double the normal cost, and there is heavy interest in the hay lottery. The department as of Thursday had received 840 applications from ranchers in the three states.

"We know for sure that around 10 to 12 (semitrailer) loads or so are coming from Michigan through Ag Community Relief, and have heard of more possible," department spokeswoman Michelle Mielke said.

The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map , released Thursday, shows 82 percent of North Dakota, 76 percent of South Dakota and 70 percent of Montana are in some stage of drought. The map lists 44 percent of North Dakota, 25 percent of Montana and 6 percent of South Dakota in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories.

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