US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Research Topics

Priority Areas

  • Forest Disturbances
  • Localized Needs (regional work)

RMRS Program Areas

Experimental Forests & Ranges

Helen Y. Smith

Missoula Fire Science Laboratory
5775 West Broadway Street
United States

Phone: 406-329-4707
Contact Helen Y. Smith

Current Research

Helen is currently the Manager of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest (TCEF) in the Little Belt Mountains of Central Montana. In this role, she is responsible for collecting corporate data for water quality (sediment load, pH, nitrate levels, conductance, and dissolved oxygen) as well as quantity (flow). Additional corporate data sets for the TCEF include manual snow courses and precipitation gauges.

Other research that Helen is involved with focuses on quantification of fuelbed characteristics and snag attrition in managed lodgepole pine stands, as well as leading efforts for re-measurement of permanent plots established in 1996-98 to quantify changes in lodgepole pine forest structure, all on the TCEF.

Helen recently directed the laboratory burn portion of a mixed-conifer masticated fuel study at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory.

Research Interests

Helen hopes to contribute to a better understanding of ecology, fuel dynamics, and fire behavior in multi-aged lodgepole pine forests. In addition, she views her role as Manager of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest as crucial to supporting diverse research interests there.

Past Research

Helen has been involved in a variety of forest and woodland studies from fire history work of the Girard Grove, Seeley Lake, MT to forest ecology and fuelbed characterization in locations such as the Bitterroot Mountains (MT), Valles Caldera National Preserve (NM), San Juan Mountains (CO), southwestern Utah, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (AZ), Mono County, CA and the Rattlesnake Mountains (MT).

Why This Research is Important

Fire history work is important to help citizens and managers understand the conditions under which a given area developed. Organisms evolve and develop strategies for survival and reproduction based on patterns of disturbance and environmental conditions/constraints. While a previous stand structure may not be the goal of management activities, the information gained by learning about the disturbance history of an area can help guide management decisions.

Nearly all management activities have some level of impact to an area. Investigating how management activities affect stand structure and composition is important in the adaptive management cycle. By researching the various components (such as surface fuel dynamics, vegetative response, residual stand structure, etc.), we can begin to gain an understanding of the impacts to larger system. These impacts could affect wildlife habitat, anticipated fire behavior, insect and disease vulnerability, water quality, or soil stability.


  • University of Montana, Missoula, M.S. Resource Conservation (Thesis: Assessing longevity of ponderosa pine snags in relation to age, diameter, wood density and pitch content) 1999
  • University of Montana, Missoula, B.S. Wildlife Biology 1995
  • Flathead Valley Community College, A.A.S. General 1993

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Last updated on : 10/28/2020