Sure, 100 inches of snow makes great structures for jumps and tunnels. But, eventually all this is going to melt … Read part one of this series here.
Also, it’s tough on animals. These antelope died where they tried to paw through the feet-thick drifts.
And other critters, like this whitetail, died by the dozens in farmers’ haystacks. They couldn’t metabolize the cured hay.
Under the frozen ice of the Milk River, the water rose during March.
And then our thaw finally arrived, and the ice on the river started to break up with the first pulse of runoff.
All of northeast Montana was preparing for record flooding, but when the Milk River finally went out of its bank last week, it seemed like we weren’t prepared for the scale of the impacts.
Over the weekend the river breached the channel and spread out over the significant river valley.
Riverside homes have been evacuated. Livestock feed grounds are being cut off. Other impacts are harder to see. Rural homesteads are losing their septic systems as drain fields have been inundated. Wells are being contaminated with the standing groundwater.
And rural roads are being closed, cutting off rural homesteads from town.
You can see impacts in smaller ways, too. The dry ground is almost crawling with rodents, displaced from their inundated habitats. Here, a vole swims across a flooded pool.
And the snowmelt has revealed the quantity of our winterkill. Deer and antelope carcasses are floating by the hundreds on the rising water.
The survivors are also displaced. Deer are stranded on islands of dry ground.
These displaced deer herds sometimes number in the hundreds.
These whitetails, already emaciated by the hard winter, are struggling to find enough forage on the available dry ground.
The predators are circling the herds.
This coyote shaded a large herd of whitetails, looking for weak or crippled deer.
Our small streams are swollen, further exacerbating the flooding in the Milk River.
This is a shot of a bridge over a small tributary.
Less than 24 hours later, this is a photo of the same area. The bridge is under 5 or 6 feet of water.
How long will the flooding last? Flood forecasters say the worst isn’t over. The Milk is supposed to crest later this week, then drop a few feet but remain over flood stage for as long as two weeks as snowmelt works through the already sodden system.
Hunting Editor Andrew McKean is currently stranded in his home by rising flood waters. But floods aren’t harmful only to people, they can also be hard on wildlife. See Part 2 of this 3-part series.