By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Oklahoma will ease commercial vehicle restrictions to speed delivery of hay and other feed to cattle whose grazing areas have been destroyed by a severe drought in the region, the governor said on Thursday.
Republican Governor Mary Fallin said she would amend an existing drought-related emergency declaration she issued earlier this year to allow hay-haulers to operate bigger trucks with heavier loads on the state's roads.
"We have cattle that are starving," Fallin told Reuters, "and we have certain areas of the state where we need to get the hay delivered to the farmers and the ranchers and the cattlemen."
Fallin said the move, which would nearly double the number of hay bales a single truck could haul, was temporary and would apply only to targeted areas.
Fallin imposed a burn ban last week in 45 of Oklahoma's 77 counties as a result of the drought that has gripped the southern Plains for months and appears to be spreading to parts of the Midwest, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor.
Texas remains the epicenter of the crisis, with exceptional drought, the most severe drought category, covering 75 percent of the state. That is the most in at least a decade and up from nearly 72 percent last week.
But Oklahoma has been hard hit too, with drought destroying grazing areas and sparking wildfires that have burned thousands of acres.
Fallin said the abnormally hot, dry weather had also triggered an explosive bloom of cyanobacteria, often called blue-green algae, in some of Oklahoma's lakes and ponds.
Cyanobacteria can cause respiratory problems and rashes in humans, and has been linked to animal deaths.
Fallin was in Chicago on a business development trip.
(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)