NRIS Online GIS data

(NRIS is the Montana State Library's Natural Resource Information System)

Description is current as of March 28, 2002

Nature & Purpose of the database: NRIS has a wide variety of natural resource information that is mapped and stored as GIS themes (compatible with ArcInfo and ArcView). The data are listed in a browsable, searchable list and can be downloaded as ArcInfo export (e00) files or ESRI shape files for Arcview. Most of the maps/GIS themes available online are for illustrative purposes or for basin-wide planning at a large scale. In most cases however, the resolution is too coarse and/or the accuracy too uncertain to use for detailed planning purposes. Some of the data sets cover the entire state and some are specific to regions. There are quite a few GIS themes available for the Upper Clark Fork due to the Superfund site work; however, the metadata for these maps is very sketchy. For many the source or accuracy of the map that was digitized is unknown. A summary of some of the available info is listed below and some of the more useful maps highlighted.

Location of sample sites/areas assessed: Some of the GIS data layers are statewide, some are region specific (including many for the Upper Clark Fork Basin Superfund sites).

  • Nature of location information in database: Horizontal_Coordinate_System_Definition 
  • Grid_Coordinate_System_Name: State Plane Coordinate System 1983 
  • SPCS_Zone_Identifier: 2500 
  • Map_Projection_Name: Lambert Conformal Conic 
  • Standard_Parallel: 45 Standard_Parallel: 49 
  • Longitude_of_Central_Meridian: -109.5 
  • Latitude_of_Projection_Origin: 44.25 
  • False_Easting: 600000 False_Northing: 0 
  • Planar_Distance_Units: meters 
  • Geodetic_Model Horizontal_Datum_Name: North American Datum of 1983 
  • Altitude_Encoding_Method: Implicit coordinate

Time frame: Varies with type of information. Mainly from the 1980's and 1990's. Mostly one- time assessments (except for population census).

Parameters available to download (brief summaries of each type of data; listed in order found on NRIS GIS web page): 

Statewide data: 

  • People/Places: towns, US population census data for 1990 & 2000 
  • Land/Water: roads, 1:100,000 hydrography, 1:24000 DEM, 1:100,000 land cover (described under land cover section), , perimeter of year 2000 forest fires; other data scales far too coarse (for example: 1:250,000 land use). 
  • Administrative data: counties, cities, reservations, pubic land ownership & use designations (1:100,000), hunting districts 
  • Maps: USGS 1:24000 (7.5 minute) topo maps 
  • Environmental monitoring (all are on the NRIS Mapper): mines, landfills, discharge permits, USGS & STORET stations

Upper Clark Fork Regional data: 

  • USGS 1:24000 scale base maps : roads, streams, lakes, railroads, pipelines, transmission lines, boundaries, public land survey 
  • Photogrammetric data: digitized aerial photos (1:2400) of a narrow corridor along the river , depicting hydrography, structures, roads, 2-25 foot contours, fences, woods (theoretically spatially accurate within 2 meters, but not well documented) 
  • Clark Fork River operable unit: 100 year floodplain digitized from FEMA map (1:12000 to 1:24000; horizontal accuracy theoretically 12 m); exposed tailings (4 sets of maps from different contractors - see detailed discussion); exposed bank tailings & lateral cutting (visual assessments recorded on 1:4800 base maps by UM RWRP in 1993-95); 100 foot contours (digitized from USGS 30 m DEM, 1:24000); river mile markers (digitized 1989 aerial photos), irrigated land (1987 by CH2M Hill method not described); historic irrigated land (reconstructed from state & county records from the 1950's & 60's by EMSL Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory, Lockheed Engineering and Sciences Company). 
  • Montana Pole site: contaminated areas & groundwater plume (digitized some hand sketches, not well documented) 
  • Butte site: many poorly documented maps that will likely be made irrelevant by Superfund work. A better source of info for this area is Butte Silver Bow County GIS (described elsewhere in this report and available at : One map that may be useful: groundwater elevation (1993, Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology) 
  • Smelter Hill (Anaconda area): Almost all maps are digitized from 1:6000 scale maps produced by PTI Env. Services in a 1993 report: Smelter Hill phytotoxicity, surface water and groundwater investigations…; these maps are of unknown accuracy & include vegetation types, surface geology, drainage features, eroded areas. 
  • Deer Lodge area: nothing of use 
  • Anaconda: poorly documented digitized maps of pencil sketches, except for land use (digitized from aerial photos by EPA and converted to ArcInfo by EMSL). 
  • Milltown area: 1990 jurisdictional wetlands (but scale & quality makes these only of use for illustration) 
  • Silver Bow Creek: 100 year floodplain (digitized from 1:6000 scale maps from 1988 Flood Modeling Study by CH2M Hill); the following maps were produced by Canonie Environmental of Bozeman: tailings thickness (based on interpolation of cores assessed visually & chemically), estimated extent of saturated tailings (based on tailings thickness & groundwater table); groundwater elevation (interpolated by hand by from well data). No accuracy information available for any of these maps.

Quality of data: Much of the statewide data are meant to be used at a scale of 1:100,000 or coarser. The Clark Fork regional data vary from 1:100,000 to 1:2400. Metadata varies in quality. Sometimes no scale is given; accuracy is sometimes unknown, or stated qualitatively (fair or poor). Sometimes the source map or source data is inadequately described. Much of the most potentially relevant information is inadequately documented. See metadata for each map for more detail.

Relevant reference: see metadata of each map

Responsible party contact info: Gerry Daumiller, of NRIS (406) 444-5358

How to access NRIS's online GIS data: click on 'Browse the GIS data list' to get to  Most of these data sets can be downloaded online, but some must be requested.

Usefulness to restoration planning:  Most of the GIS data available online is of limited usefulness to restoration planning due to its scale or its poor or unknown accuracy. The scale of the statewide data is too coarse. The Clark Fork regional data is of a finer scale (1:24000 down to 1:2400), more useful for restoration planning, but the metadata is often insufficient to determine the accuracy of much of these data. Many of the GIS layers were obtained by digitizing maps developed by consulting firms. Those maps included hand sketches & maps of unknown accuracy. The most useful data appear to be the base maps, photogrammetric data, and the maps from the Clark Fork River and Silver Bow Creek operable units. Of greatest use to restoration planning would be the maps of: 100 year floodplain, fine scale contours, wetland delineations (if of better quality), exposed surface tailings, bank tailings, lateral bank cutting, tailings thickness and saturated tailings It is important to remember that superfund work will alter many of these sites, removing areas of contamination and changing contours.

Recommendations for making the info more useful: On the browsable list, state the map scale (1:24000) & a code for accuracy (U=unknown, G = good, F = fair, Q = quantititative data available, see metadata). This will show that most of these maps are not useful for detailed planning & save the user having to browse through the metadata. Provide more data at the 1:24000 scale or finer. Improve the quality of the metadata on the Clark Fork regional data. Where there are several versions of the same information (as with the maps of surface tailings & the 100 year floodplain), it would be a service to users to determine which information is the most reliable and eliminate the other versions from the list.

For example, there are 4 sets of streamside tailings data. The CH2M Hill set was digitized by EMSL from a CH2M Hill report