Floods following bad winter hurt Rich Co. ranchers

Flooded land in Rich County, Utah, is pictured on Tuesday, May 9. Many areas along the Bear River are under a flood alert. (HERALD PHOTO/Hayden Godfrey)

RICH COUNTY, Utah — On Monday, May 8, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning and advisory issues for the Bear River in eastern Rich County, Utah, and a portion of northwest Uinta County.

“After many years of drought and an extremely hard winter, these ranchers are now experiencing some of the worst flooding ever seen in Rich County,” Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) Commissioner Craig Buttars said. “Our department is working to do everything we can to help these ranchers and set up resources for others who may experience hardships due to the flooding.”

Because of snowmelt and reservoir releases, river flows will increase, causing moderate flooding along Bear River below Woodruff Narrows Reservoir to the Utah-Wyoming line west of Sage Junction. This has impacted farms, ranches and roadways.

UDAF officials estimate that 20-30 ranches along the Bear River have been impacted by flooding. As a result of this emergency, cattle have had to be evacuated to avoid the rising waters. Ranchers are expected to incur additional feed costs of $18,000 to $25,000 per ranch and transportation costs of $2,500 to $5,000 to relocate cattle.

Additional costs have been incurred to divert water and create high ground for cattle to stand on. Unfortunately, an undetermined number of cattle have already been lost. This all comes after a brutal and long winter that already cost ranchers the loss of newborn calves. Officials with Utah Farm Bureau estimate ranchers in Utah have lost 40% of their calves this year.

Rich County Commissioner Sim Weston, who owns a large ranch in the area of flooding, said he had to move a herd of 400 cattle with calves by truck to higher ground where he has to haul in hay for feeding. Weston said normally his cattle are up in the mountains by now but this year there has been too much snow. He still hopes to move at least half of his cattle to the mountains in the next several days.

“All my neighbors have suffered this year with calf loss, about a 20 to 30% loss across Rich County,” Weston said. “I’ve already lost about 100 calves. We didn’t feel the weight of this brutal winter until we started calving in mid-March. We hired a dozer to push snow away so the cows would have a dry place to lay and have their calves, but we still lost calves every night — it got down to 18 to 20 degrees below at night.”

Justine Wilson, Rich County brand inspector and livestock inspector for the Utah Department of Agriculture, agreed with Weston that the brutal winter combined with the flooding has cost many Rich County ranchers great losses.

“It’s been really devastating for all of us in Rich County,” Wilson said. “My husband Josey’s family ranch has also lost calves, 15-40% of our calf crop. We have had to move our herd of mama cows and calves to higher ground. Usually at this time of year, our cows are ‘chasing’ the grass — but not this year. Most of us have had to buy way over our normal amount of hay by hundreds of tons to feed the cattle.”

Wilson said ranchers are doing everything they can to divert the water and using sandbags where they can. She added that everyone in the valley is lending a hand. She said locals that live on higher ground have opened their fields to those who have to move their cattle from the flooded fields.

“There are thousands of cattle raised here in Rich County,” Wilson said.

Weston echoed Wilson’s comments that “the locals in Rich County are amazing and even those without livestock have offered to help in any way they can.”

UDAF Public Information Officer Bailee Woolstenhulme said the agency has received reports of extreme flooding in Rich County along the Bear River causing devastation for ranchers and livestock.

“We are looking into all avenues for financial assistance for ranchers,” Woolstenhulme said. “We are advising ranchers to document and keep receipts for all costs involved in evacuating and feeding their cattle. That will help us to reimburse them if we can secure funding. UDAF officials are working closely with the ranchers in Rich County and with the Department of Emergency Management to address these emerging concerns.”

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