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Brief Historical Summary
Coram Experimental Forest was established in 1933 on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana as an area representative of the western larch (Larix occidentalis Nutt.) forest cover type distributed within the upper Columbia River basin. Research of western larch was centered at Coram Experimental Forest to provide a scientific basis to manage this important and valuable species.
In 1938, 339 ha (838 ac) of the experimental forest was reserved as a natural area. It was officially recognized as the "Coram Research Natural Area" in 1988. In 1976, the Coram Experimental Forest was designated a "Biosphere Reserve" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a worldwide network included in the Man and the Biosphere program.
Coram (a field research site with over 50 years of manipulative research) and Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks (protected areas noted for ecosystem conservation, public education, and baseline monitoring), are designated the Crown of the Continent Biosphere Reserves.
In 1992, an International Larix Arboretum featuring larches of the world was established near Coram Experimental Forest in the town of Hungry Horse.
Research began on the Coram Experimental Forest in 1948 and through the 1950s objectives were to learn how to regenerate western larch and associated conifers using even-aged methods of regeneration harvest cutting coupled with a wide range of site preparation treatments.
Research in the 1960s determined how to regenerate larch by seeding and planting and how young larch forests, grown under a wide range of stand densities, respond with individual tree and stand growth. Studies in the 1970s featured multidisciplinary research in a forest residues utilization research and development program.
Research in the 1980s studied old growth dynamics within the Coram Research Natural Area, cone production in young larch stands, and differences in bird populations within logged and unlogged areas. The 1990s continued ongoing research and expanded the dissemination of results through conservation education locally, regionally, and internationally.
Climate on the Coram Experimental Forest is classified as a modified Pacific maritime-type. Occasional winter, continental-type polar air moves westward over the Continental Dived dropping temperature substantially for a few days. Seasons at Coram are broadly classed as: winter, November through March; spring, April through June; summer, July and August; and autumn, September and October.
Annual precipitation averages about 890 mm (35 in) at the lowest elevation of 1,006 m (3,300 ft) and about 1,270 mm (50 in) at the high point Desert Mountain 1,942 m (6,370 ft). The May through August mean temperature is about 16 OC (61 OF) with highs on occasion exceeding 38 OC (100 OF). Winter temperature average about -7 OC (20 OF) but rarely drops below -29 OC (-20 OF).
Length of growing season (frost-free days) ranges from 81-days, near Abbot Creek to about 160-days, on a nearby east-facing slope.
Selected climatic factors have been measured at several locations within the experimental forest but starting in autumn 2002, only two locations will be maintained. Streamflow is monitored on Abbot Creek near its source and on Lunch Fork of Abbot Creek.
See the Emery Creek SNOTEL site.
A rock layer primarily comprising argillite and quartzite underlies most of the upper slopes. Glacial outwash and till were deposited on the lower areas. A thin layer of volcanic ash covers about half of the forest. Rich loamy soils predominate. Soil depths range from a few centimeters on steep, upper slopes to over 3 m (9 ft) on gentle, lower terrain.
Six soils are evident:
- Loamy-skeletal soils on materials weathered from impure limestone and argillite
- Loamy-skeletal soils on argillite, siltite, and quartzite
- Loamy-skeletal soils on glacial till
- Loamy-skeletal soils on both alluvium and glacial outwash
- Loamy-skeletal soils on glacial outwash
- Fine and fine-loamy soils on lacustrine deposits
Favorable growing conditions on the Coram Experimental Forest result in a diverse mix of vegetation. A verified species list is available and voucher specimens are found in the herbarium at the Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana.
Forest cover types:
- Western larch and interior Douglas-fir (majority of Coram Experimental Forest).
- Spruce/subalpine fir on cooler, moist sites at all but the lowest elevations.
- Western redcedar on one lower elevation, moist, and sheltered site.
- Western redcedar/western hemlock on occasional lower to mid-elevation moist sites.
- Whitebark pine along the high ridge near Desert Mountain (declining population because of the influence of white pine blister rust).
- Abies lasiocarpa/Clintonia uniflora is common throughout the experimental forest except on dry southerly and west-facing slopes and at elevations above 1,675 m (5,494 ft). Phases of this habitat type include, Aralia nudicaulis, Menziesia ferruginea, Clintonia uniflora, and Xerophyllum tenax.
- Pseudotsuga menziesii/Physocarpus malvaceus found on dry southerly and west-facing slopes below about 1,674 m (5,494 ft).
- Thuja plicata/Clintonia uniflora on moist bottoms, often close to streams.
- Tsuga heterophylla/Clintonia uniflora on moist bottoms, often close to streams.
- Abies lasiocarpa/Xerophyllum tenax at high elevation sites.
- Abies lasiocarpa/Menziesia ferruginea on cold, moist, and high-elevation sites of northerly slopes.
- Natural regeneration following methods of site preparation, 1949-1960.
- Dispersal of conifer seed, 1949-1956.
- Shelterwood and seed tree cutting, site preparation methods, and natural regeneration of conifers, 1950 -1984.
- Clearcuttings, site preparation, seed dispersal, and natural regeneration of conifers, 1954-1974.
- Strip clearcutting, site preparation, growth of unmerchantable understory trees, and natural regeneration of conifers, 1954-1974.
- Group seed tree cutting, site preparation, and natural regeneration of conifers, 1956-1968.
- Direct seeding, germination, and seedling survival of conifers, 1958-1964.
- Small mammal relationships in old growth and recently harvested western larch, 1961-1964, 1992.
- Effects of wide tree spacing and site on flowering response of larch to stem injection of GA4/7, 1991-1996.
- Influence of regulated stand densities in young western larch stands on individual tree and stand growth, 1961-2001:
- On insect, disease, and physical damage, 1961-2001.
- On water relations and phenology, 1968-1988.
- On vegetation development, 1970.
- On cone production, 1984-1995.
- Evaluation of alternative timber harvesting practices on regeneration, vegetation, and stand development and soil water use, 1974-2001.
- Vegetation change and seedfall on permanent plots, Coram Research Natural Area, 1993.
- Bird populations, Coram Experimental Forest, 1989.
- Climate and hydrology of Coram Experimental Forest, 1974-2002.
See previous information for past and current research.
Major Research Accomplishments and Impacts on Management
- Results from over 50 years of research on the Coram Experimental Forest provide land managers with science-based recommendations for a wide range of applications. Data from studies at Coram and many other locations were summarized for managers: Schmidt, W.C.; Shearer, R.C.; Roe, A.L. 1976. Ecology and Silviculture of western larch forests. USDA Technical Bulletin 1520. 96 p. For over 25 years this Technical Bulletin has been the primary source of information for management of western larch. It is now being updated and expanded.
- Symposia and workshops have been held to update managers with information from results of research on the Coram Experimental Forest.
- USDA Forest Service. 1980. Environmental consequences of timber harvesting in Rocky Mountain coniferous forests. 1979 September 11-13; Missoula, MT. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ogden, UT. General Technical Report. INT-90, 526 p.
- Shearer, Raymond C., compiler. Proceedings-conifer tree seed in the Inland Mountain West symposium; 1985 August 5-6; Missoula, MT. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. General Technical Report INT-203. 289 p.
- Schmidt, Wyman C., compiler. 1987. Proceedings-future forests of the Mountain West: a stand culture symposium; 1986 September 29-October 3; Missoula, MT. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. General Technical Report INT-243. 402 p.
- Schmidt, Wyman C.; McDonald, Kathy J., compilers. Ecology and management of Larix forests: a look ahead. Proceedings of an international symposium; 1992, October 5-9; Whitefish, MT, U.S.A. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. General Technical Report INT-GTR-319. 521 p. Associated with this symposium was a one-day field trip to Coram Experimental Forest and the dedication of the International Larix Arboretum in Hungry Horse, MT.
- Celebrating 50 years of research on the Coram Experimental Forest, 1948-1998 included:
- Living in the Landscape, A Flathead Community Celebration was held from April through October 1998 to mark Coram's 50th anniversary and to explore people's connection to the landscape. A community quilt, a science symposium, a concert, student research projects, art exhibits, community anthology, and field trips to Coram Experimental Forest were featured during the seven-month period.
- "Interpreting the Landscape through Science," a symposium held in Kalispell May 15-16, 1998 celebrated not only 50 years of research at Coram but reported results of research being conducted elsewhere in the area. Many high school science students completed a one or two year mentored research project. Student reports were blended with professional papers to give the public a feeling for research being conducted at Coram and throughout the Flathead Valley.
- The National Silviculture Workshop was held in Kalispell, October 5-7, 1999 and featured a field trip to Coram Experimental Forest to celebrate completion of 50 years of western larch research at Coram.
- The self-guided "Walk With Larch" trails on the Coram Experimental Forest provide opportunities for students and forest visitors to explore this unique area. A brochure "Walk with larch-paths through an ever-changing forest" enhances the conservation education program for the Coram Experimental Forest.
- Shearer, Raymond C.; Kempf, Madelyn M. 1999. Coram Experimental Forest: 50 years of research in a western larch forest. General Technical Report. RMRS-GTR-37. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 66 p. This publication summarizes history and establishment of the Coram Experimental Forest and important contributions to science made at this important outdoor laboratory and classroom. View this publication (448 KB PDF).
- Brochures describing Coram Experimental Forest:
- Shearer, Raymond C. 1995. Coram Experimental Forest. In: Schmidt, Wyman C.; Friede, Judy L. compilers. Experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds in the Northern Rocky mountains: a compendium of outdoor in Utah, Idaho, and Montana. General Technical Report INT-GTR-334. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. P 73-80.
- Intermountain Research Station. 1996. Coram Experimental Forest-a jewel in the Crown of the Continent Biosphere Reserves.
The Rocky Mountain Research Station conducts research on and administers the Coram Experimental Forest. The Flathead National Forest provides close support for studies and monitoring by contributing timber sale administration, road maintenance, law enforcement, fire protection, and other services that promote research. Outstanding cooperation from personnel of the Hungry Horse (formerly Coram) Ranger District enabled accomplishment of research objectives for over 50 years.
Collaborators involved in research at Coram include:
- British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Research Branch, Victoria
- Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Michigan Technical University, Houghton
- Montana State University, Bozeman
- The University of Montana, Missoula
- Universitat Münster, Germany
- University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
- University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Washington State University, Pullman
- FORINTEK, Vancouver, British Columbia
Collaborators incorporate data from Coram into ecosystem-based management of national forests, other forestlands, nearby national parks, and science curricula for schools. Inclusion in the Man and the Biosphere Program encourages national and international cooperation that has become an integral part of Coram's success.
Future research on the Coram Experimental Forest will continue to build on studies already in place and initiate new studies that can be superimposed on a wide range of forest conditions. In addition to old growth forests at Coram, a broad range of younger age classes established following harvest cutting and site preparation treatments from 1916 to 1974.
Facilities and Location
The field headquarters at Hungry Horse, Montana, just off U.S. Highway 2, has living quarters and limited office space. Coram Experimental Forest has road access throughout much of its area, except within the Coram Research Natural Area. Most roads are gated because of grizzly bear habitat restrictions. A few areas are accessed by trails.
See publications section.
Click on each thumbnail photograph for an enlarged version.
Map of Coram Experimental Forest.
Western larch, a deciduous and valuable conifer that grows only in the Upper Columbia River Basin. These 350-year-old trees grow at the south boundary of Coram Experimental Forest.
Portion of a regenerated clearcut, foreground and the forest residues utilization study area, background, Coram Experimental Forest. Decreasing the clearing width of forest roads (upper two switchbacks in upper left of photograph) diminishes their visibility on the landscape.