Flood season sure to impact people, health of the river

News Type: State, , Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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It’s flood season in Montana, and this year is proving to be one for the history books. With far above average snowpack and ample warm weather and rain, rivers are swollen and flooding throughout the state. Media coverage has focused mostly on risk and loss or damage to life and property. Floodwaters are eroding valuable farmland and washing away cherished homes and livelihoods. Floods this year have unfortunately also claimed lives.

But there is another flood story that is not being told – floods are a boon to habitat and river health. Montana has some of the most pristine, healthy, free-flowing rivers in the country, renowned for their self-sustaining blue-ribbon fisheries, healthy populations of bald eagles, ospreys and herons that nest in riverside cottonwoods, and trophy whitetails that find refuge on islands and river bottoms. The abundant river and floodplain forest habitat along most of our rivers exists because of floods like those we are experiencing this year, not despite them.

The floods we are seeing statewide are natural events that erode channel banks, entrain trees that stack up in logjams, and create new side channels, gravel bars and sand deposits on the floodplain as they have for millennia. While flooding damages homes and infrastructure and affects the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, it can also be seen as part of the natural process of maintaining a naturally functioning and healthy river system.