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Montana Ag Network: Huge ice jam impacts Yellowstone River flooding

Posted at 4:31 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 18:31:34-04

As the weather warms this spring, we have seen the impacts that melting ice and flooding has had on the state. Most recently, the Yellowstone River was a cause for concern for Eastern Montana residents and ranchers.

Tim Gibbs ranches south of Glendive in Hoyt. Over the years he has seen many ice jams and flooding on the Yellowstone River. This year he not only had a ground view of the spring flooding, but a bird’s eye view from a helicopter of an ice jam that occurred just south of Glendive this past weekend.

An aerial view of the Yellowstone River’s ice jam near Glendive over the weekend.

“We didn’t think this year’s flooding was going to be much,” said Gibbs. “But it actually got to be a lot more than we expected. We were checking it every two hours on Friday night here at the ranch and at six o’clock I saw it was starting to move.”

In preparation, Gibbs made sure his livestock was on high ground.

“We went down and made sure no cows went back down to the river there against the trees,” he explained. “It was going out here when it went down about four or five miles and jammed. Well then about an hour later then came a huge jam and picked the river up another two to three feet and just kind of started marching towards Glendive.”

Gibbs added the ice was moving 12 miles an hour this past weekend and floodwaters were around ten feet high at his ranch.

“If you’ve never watched the Yellowstone go out, you don’t get the full effect unless you are standing on the bank,” Tim said. “When the ground is shaking and when these ice chunks are hitting and trying to break up and go through it’s really something.”

While the water and ice are impacting area ranchers and residents, Gibbs said it’s not the worst he’s seen the Yellowstone River in springtime.

“Back in 1994 I think it was, it rolled over about 23 feet here,” Gibbs remembered. “That got to be 12 feet deep in my mom and dad’s house and three and a half feet deep in our shops. So, you never know where that river is going to jam and you never know how high it’s going to get to push the jam on through. But this year it wasn’t very impactful.”

“It affects our calving,” he shared. “It’s just another worry for you to go through. It’s going to take us a half a day to rebuild fence and we will  have to lock cows away from the river right now so we lose all of our shelter and rely more on windbreaks and stuff like that.”

Farmers and ranchers know all too well that weather can be a blessing or a curse.

“The Yellowstone is such a blessing because we rely on it for irrigation and recreation,” Gibbs said. “It gets to be a curse here for a while from a day to two weeks if it stays jammed up or something. But the Yellowstone is a blessing and the lifeblood of eastern Montana. So you take you take that in stride with what you have if you want to live along the river. You are taking it in stride.”

In other news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking nominations for four vacancies on the American Lamb Board starting in 2020.

They are looking for a producer with less than 100 lambs, a producer with more than 500 lambs, an at-large feeder and a first handler. The American Lamb Board, established in 2002, is a national promotion, research and information organization whose purpose is to increase awareness and demand for American Lamb and increase the value of American Lamb for all segments of the industry.

The board is appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture and represents all sectors of the industry. The 13-member board represents all sectors of the industry – six producers, three feeders, one seedstock producer and three first handlers. Nominations are due May 1, 2019.

-Reported by Lane Nordlund/MTN News