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Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest
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Site Description

Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest is approximately 40 miles (64 km) north of White Sulphur Springs, Montana, or 71 miles (114 km) southeast of Great Falls, Montana. To access the experimental forest, turn west on to USFS Forest Road 839 located just north of King’s Hill Pass on US highway 89. From the turnoff on highway 89, it is approximately 12 miles (20 Km) to the eastern boundary of the experimental forest.


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Measuring snowpack
Measuring snowpack

Climate at the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest is generally continental with occasional influence of the Pacific maritime climate along the Continental Divide from Marias Pass south. Annual precipitation averages 880 mm, and ranges from 594 to 1,050 mm from the lowest to highest elevations. Monthly precipitation generally peaks in December or January at 100 to 125 mm per month and declines to 50 to 60 mm per month from late July through October. About 70 percent of the annual precipitation falls during winter, usually as snow. Intense summer thunderstorms are relatively rare, and most overland flow and associated soil erosion are associated with snowmelt.

Precipitation Zones

Mountain soils generally are at field capacity at the beginning of plant growth in early spring. At lower elevations and on dry south-facing slopes, soil-moisture stress stops plant growth for shallow rooted plants by mid-July. At higher elevations, growing seasons are shorter and killing frosts rather than moisture stress limit growth. Freezing temperatures and snow can occur every month of the year at the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest and throughout the Little Belt mountain range. For hardy native plants, growing seasons average 45 to 75 days, decreasing to 30 to 45 days on the higher ridges.

Current and historic temperature and precipitation data is available online for the Onion Park and Stringer Creek National Resource Conservation Service snow telemetry (SNOTEL) sites. Annual precipitation data is available at the Forest Service Research Data Archive.

The most extensive soil groups are the loamy skeletal, mixed Typic Cryochrepts and clayey, mixed Aquic Cryoboralfs. Rock talus slopes are prominent on the perimeter of the landscape, but rock outcrops are confined chiefly to areas adjacent to main stream channels. Soils in the grassland parks range from well to poorly drained. Seeps and springs are common over the entire forest.

The geology of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest Forest is characterized by igneous intrusive sills of quartz porphyry, Wolsey shales, Flathead quartzite, and granite gneiss. The northern part of the forest occupies the highest elevations and steepest upland topography and is underlain by igneous intrusive granitic rocks. The arched bedrock in the area was formed from metasediments of Cambrian Age consisting mainly of argillites and quartzites. Glaciation has influenced the landform, producing broad basins in which the streams are beginning to regain a water-carved dendritic pattern.

For a complete geological assessment of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest see Geology of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest Little Belt Mountains.

Typical lodgepole pine stand
Typical lodgepole pine stand with grouse whortleberry understory

Four forest habitat types are present at Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest: subalpine fir/grouse whortleberry; subalpine fir, blue huckleberry; subalpine fir, bluejoint; and subalpine fir whitebark pine/grouse whortleberry (see map below; also Habitat Types of the Tenderfoot Experimental Forest). Besides these four climax types, a portion of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest is dominated by the lodgepole pine/huckleberry community type. In this case, however, the community type is attributable to the subalpine fir/grouse whortleberry habitat type because of the extensive and continuous presence of fir regeneration and old growth throughout the forest. Within each habitat type are stands of different age classes occurring intermittently. There are also four other general land descriptions classified for the forest: talus slopes, rock outcrops, grassland parks, and wet meadows.

For a complete vascular flora of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest see Vascular Flora of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest, Little Belt Mountains, Montana.

Habitat Types

map of habitat types