MISSOULA – As river flows drop and activity picks up on rivers and creeks around western Montana, floaters should remember to scout ahead and be prepared for debris in the water that can be a serious safety concern.
This season, boaters seem to be finding more debris and log jams in local rivers than on an average year. In the past week, the Bitterroot River, in particular, has been a hot spot for log jams in multiple locations. Log jams have been reported to block all or most of the Bitterroot in the sections below Angler’s Roost, Veteran’s Bridge, Bell Crossing and Tucker Crossing access sites, for example.
Woody debris is a natural and prevalent part of any river system and important for river function and fish habitat but also a risk that boaters should be prepared for. Although obstructions are identified on one day, conditions can change rapidly, freeing the river of log jams in one spot and creating hazards in new locations.
Logs and other debris can overturn boats and trap gear and boaters beneath the water. Consider alternative water recreation locations when necessary, and if you do go, wear a life jacket, take it slow, scout ahead, and walk
“portage” boats around hazards. In addition, be aware of diversion dams in some local rivers that require portage around. Taking that extra time to research and watch for obstructions and to stop and walk around is a critical safety step.
Hazards exist on any river, and conditions can change rapidly as flows drop and new debris is carried along the river and settles in new locations. After spring runoff, floaters will also find river channels that have changed locations, presenting new conditions and floating considerations. Be prepared and check local conditions before heading out.