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Washington, D.C. -- Wyoming sheep and cattle producers hit hard by this year's winter weather may be eligible for a nearly 30 percent reimbursement of losses through a federal disaster aid bill passed by the Senate this week, according to Senator Mike Enzi.

Enzi cautioned that the legislation has not become law, but "it's something Wyoming ranchers affected by a hard winter and heavy spring snow should follow with keen interest."

The livestock indemnity program is an 'unadvertised' provision in the Supplemental Appropriations bill. It authorizes the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, to set aside up to $50 million earned from the sale of grain in the federal disaster reserve stores. The amount of grain sold would be limited to 20 million bushels. The money could then be used to compensate livestock producers who have suffered heavy losses due to this season's brutal blizzards.

"This assistance may soon be out there and I want Wyoming ranchers to know about it beforehand," said Enzi. "I don't want our cattle and sheep producers being told they were too late because ranchers in other states affected by the storms took advantage of the program before them."

Under the preliminary scope of the program, if a cow with a USDA determined market value of $800 died in a storm, the owner, if eligible, could be paid close to $228 (28.5 percent) as compensation for the loss. A sheep rancher in a similar situation could be given $23p for a ewe with a determined market value of $80. Only ranchers in areas declared by the President as disaster areas would be able to qualify for the program. The USDA would determine loss thresholds and other payment criteria.

Wyoming livestock industry officials have estimated that about 10,000 head of cattle and 10,000 head of sheep may have died due to the harsh weather. Most of the ranchers affected are in Campbell, Converse, Crook, Albany, Goshen, Weston, Johnson, Carbon, Natrona, Sheridan, Laramie, Platte and Niobrara counties. A five-year average beginning in 1992 shows that weather related sheep losses statewide usually run below 3,000 animals. Cattle weather losses have been around 2,000 head per year for the last few years. Weather losses for lambs and calves are higher than those for sheep and cattle.

Enzi encouraged ranchers to contact their local Service Agency Field office representative for more information. He reminded ranchers that other federal relief options, such as low interest loans, may be available.

The Supplemental Appropriations bill passed the Senate Thursday by a vote of 78-22. The legislation will go to a conference committee when the House passes companion legislation. Then it will go to the President for his signature.