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UM undergraduate Taylor Hopkins mapping tree locations at a study site in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Forest and fuels research at the CFC

CFC faculty and students are involved in a variety of research projects to monitor forest health and examine characteristics of individual trees and diverse forest stands. Nearly everyone in the CFC is studying forests in some way; these are just a few examples.

Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology Andrew Larson and a research team of students just spent a week in the Bob Marshall Wilderness studying old-growth larch trees. By studying how larch respond naturally to fire in the Bob Marshall, Larson and his team can develop a model for restoring harvested and fire-suppressed forests in nearby places like Seeley Lake and the Swan Valley. 

Larson is also implementing forest monitoring projects as part of Montana’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. They’re tracking species composition, treeCFC grad student Eric Rowell uses ground laser scanner to measure trees height, and canopy structure, among other things, before restoration thinning treatments. Recent research results suggest that restoration thinning treatments near Condon, Mont., restored the spatial heterogeneity of the forest.  Thinning restored a mosaic of openings, tree clumps, and widely-spaced large trees, similar to the conditions in nearby historical old-growth forests that developed in an active mixed-severity fire regime. Read more about Larson's research projects.

Associate Research Professor Carl Seielstad and several grad students are measuring trees with a ground-based laser. The laser scanner helps them efficiently and accurately measure and quantify forest landscapes. Their data is being used in a variety of ways: to estimate tree crown biomass, for fire spread models, and to improve and automate fuel characterizations used for forest plans, environmental assessments, and fire plans. Read more about our wildland fire sciences and management program.

Assistant Professor of Forest Landscape Ecology Solomon Dobrowski and his students are studying how climate change affects tree species distributions. They use historical datasets to examine past range changes and to quantify temporal niche stability to determine whether species' relationships with the environment are static over time, or if species adapt to changing environments. His recent research findings suggest that climate changes have led to a downward shift in vegetation’s optimum elevations. This downhill shift is counter to what would be expected given 20th-century warming but is readily explained by species’ niche tracking of regional changes in climatic water balance rather than temperature. Read more about Dobrowski's research projects.