By Hal Herring
by Hal Herring
“You know how, when you’re eight years old, it’s hard to watch a fish just dying out of the water? Stranded? It’s not like catching them on a hook and then killing them and eating them. Partly ‘cause I knew it was us doing it--trapping them in our ditches and then letting them die out in the fields. I couldn’t stand it.”
It took Miles City, Montana farmer and pellet mill operator Roger Muggli about 44 years to make it right. He started out as a kid, picking up fish from the family’s alfalfa fields, from the lowly buffalo and goldeye to sauger, smallmouth, and channel cats, and putting them in buckets. These were just a few of the thousands of fish sucked in to the T-Y (Tongue –Yellowstone) Irrigation District’s canal system, and left stranded as the water was used to quench the rich farmland of the Yellowstone bottoms. “I’d get on my bike, and ride as hard as I could for the river, to dump those fish in there before they died.”
In addition to his farm and mill work, Muggli is the manager of the T-Y (Tongue and Yellowstone) Irrigation District, just like his father before him, and his grandfather before that. The T-Y supplies the lifeblood to almost 10,000 acres of farm and ranchland in this dry part of eastern Montana, through almost 100 miles of ditches. Shortly after he took over the manager’s job from his father in 1988, Muggli helped to install screens for the intake of the system to help save some of those many thousands of fish “entrained” (sucked in and trapped) and lost in there every summer.