Riparian/Wetland Data Description

Riparian Wetland Research Program (RWRP)

Restoration Planning: This information could be used for identifying areas where stream bank restoration efforts are needed, especially in areas of the lower river (Garrison to Milltown) that may not be included in remedial action under Superfund. 

Data Description:  In 1993, the Riparian Wetland Research Program (RWRP), under contract to ARCO, characterized riparian and wetland areas along the upper Clark Fork River from the confluence of Silver Bow and Warm Springs Creeks near Warm Springs, MT,  to the upper end of the Milltown Reservoir near Missoula-- 122 river miles. The study is described in:  RWRP 1995. Clark Fork River Riparian Zone Report. Prepared for ARCO.  Page numbers referenced below refer to that report.

This information is now available through NRIS Mapper (from the data list look under "Other Data, Montana Wetlands"). Data from this report are stored in the RWRP database, housed in the Forestry School at the University of Montana. Contact  Scott Woods or  Mike Sweet   (243-5265)   An additional copy is housed at Bitterroot Restoration. Contact Paul Hansen. (406-961-4991).

The organization of the database is described in the user manual at

The upper Clark Fork River was divided into 19 subreaches based on hydrologic, geomorphological & land use criteria. These were further subdivided into 127 stream segments with adjacent riparian areas called polygons (one set of data was collected for each of these). These segments were further divided  into 672 subsegments (to allow more detailed data on smaller areas). The Clark Fork data in the RWRP database describes these stream segments & polygons and is often expressed as percent of the polygon area covered by a particular plant species or percent of the polygon’s bank that is unstable. These percentages were then applied to the polygon area to estimate the area covered by various vegetation types, areas of tailings, etc.

The stored data were organized into the following fields:


Administrative Data:

  •    Observer

  •    Date (month & day of field work)

  •    Side of the river (where polygon is located, L or R facing downstream)

  •    Polygon numbering system (each polygon had a unique designation, consisting of the reach (A, B, or C) and a 3-digit number indicating its position in the reach).

  •    Polygon size (in acres)

  •    Location identifiers (township, range, section, quarter section & quarter/quarter section where most of the polygon lies; also state plane coordinates & river mile location via GIS). During Arco study, collected GIS coordinates in center of polygon. Now collect GIS coordinates at upstream & downstream end of polygon & note max/min width. 

Photographs – tied to field maps (but not in the database)

Vegetation Data

  •    Canopy cover (used classes of USFS’s ECODATA, see p 57) by species  (designated by 3 letters of genus and 3 letters of species name)  canopy cover by: trees, shrubs, graminoids, forbs, by woodies, by all plants

  •    Structural diversity (11 categories, see p 61)

  •    Tree species canopy cover by size class (seedling, sapling, pole, mature, dead)

  •    Tree seedling & sapling utilization by grazers (4 utilization classes on p65)

  •    Tree regeneration ( 5 categories, p 66)

  •    Tree age group distribution (11 categories, p 67)

  •    Shrub canopy cover by age group (seedling/sapling, mature, decadent/dead)

  •    Shrub growth form (categories p 69)

  •    Graminoid/Forb canopy cover

  •    Vegetative use by animals (categories on p 70-1)

  •    Habitat type, community type, dominance type (p 71)

  •    Disturbance-induced types (p 73-6)

  •    Weeds observed (p 76-7

  •    Plant species of restricted distribution (p78-80)

  •    Altered vegetation display (chlorotic vegetation; difficult to interpret)

Hydrologic, geomorphologic and land use data (p81-95)

  •    Floodplain boundaries (groundtruthed FEMA widths; in GIS)

  •    Elevation at center of polygon (later RWRP data notes elevation at upstream/downstream ends)

  •    Stream-wetland classification (perennial, intermittent, ephemeral or subterranean streams, pooled channel natural lake, reservoir, pond/pothole, wet meadow/swale, spring/seep, river, other)

  •    Subsurface water indicators (described)

  •    Streambank length (within subreaches & reaches)

  •    Streambank materials (boulders/cobbles/>2.5 in; gravel/4.75mmto2.5in; sand/0.074mm-4.75mm;silt/clay/<0.074mm)

  •    Natural streambank angle (angle formed by intersection of the planes of the active channel bottom (assumed level) and bank slope; constructed banks not included)

  •    Streambank length accessible to livestock (%)

  •    Streambank with deep, binding root mass (<35%,35-64,65-84,>85%)

  •    Streambank altered by human disturbance (% altered by various causes)

  •    Streambank & channel modifications (% of bank altered by each type)

  •    Unstable streambanks (% in each category: undercut, vertically eroded,slumping)

  •    Active lateral cutting (% of streambank)

  •    Ground surface cover (% of polygon covered with bare rock, litter/duff,moss/lichen, wood    -- This is whole polygon, not just streambank.

  •    Soil layer (4 descriptive classes p 91)

  •    Bare ground in the polygon (%)

  •    Adjacent uplands (ag, grasslands, shrublands, forests, other)

  •    Wildlife (noted sightings)

Tributaries (p94-5)

  •    Streambank data like that above

  •    Stream incisement

  •    Stream braiding

  •    Channel Bottom Materials

Tailings Data (p95 some polygons were designated as T or tailings polygons)

  •     Visible surface tailings (% of polygon)

  •      Streambank tailings (% of streambank?)


Stream characteristics by segment (note these are independent of riparian polygons)

  •    Segment # and length (note segments were divided based on changing habitat features)

  •     Rosgen data (length, locations of tribs, sinuosity, amplitude of meanders, braiding, gradient, entrenchment, bankful width, cross sections)

  •    Flow characteristics (riffle, run, pool)

  •    Vegetation (submerged vascular plants; periphyton – 4 cover classes)

  •    Channel bottom materials (boulders/cobbles/>2.5 in; gravel/4.75mmto2.5in; sand/0.074mm-4.75mm;silt/clay/<0.074mm)

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National Wetland Inventory GIS Data 

Restoration Planning: These data are useful in locating wetlands that may be affected by restoration or other projects. And in identifying potential wetland restoration projects.

Data Description: The National Wetland Inventory is a project of the US Fish & Wildlife Service to map & classify wetlands from aerial photos. The main intent is to show the location of wetlands and provide a very general ecological description of the nature of these wetlands. The inventory represents a single point in time, but may be repeated in the future to allow assessment of trends. Database is actively managed, and incomplete.  Status of Montana mapping can be viewed at           (note – map online as of 3/1/02 is out of date).

Location of sample sites/areas: About 90% of the lower 48 states have been mapped, but only 40% of that area has been digitized. A smaller % of Montana’s inventory has been completed. The Montana Wetland Clearinghouse website shows a map of Montana with quads that have digitized NWI data available for download. Quads currently complete for the upper Clark Fork include:  Primrose east to Greenough (7 quads), SW Missoula, and SE Missoula.

Nature of location information: Data are georeferenced and that presented on the NRIS Mapper are in the state projection. 

Time frame: The aerial photos used for the Montana NWI were made in early 1980’s.

Parameters measured & methods used: Parameters noted by remote sensing experts, include those needed to classify the wetlands according to the Cowardin Classification System for Wetlands ( This provides general ecological information about the types of wetlands. Wetlands are classed as: marine, estuarine, riverine (riverside), lacustrine (lakeside) or palustrine (isolated). They are further classified based on depth, flooding & flow regime, substrate type, dominant vegetation, salinity levels.

Form of the data:  For quads with finalized digitized data, user can download (from the web site below) maps as PDF, JPEG, shape files or ArcInfo files. Note: available shape files can be viewed on NRIS’ mapper.

Quality of data: The source material used to produce the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) digital data for these maps was prepared primarily by stereoscopic analysis of high altitude aerial IR photographs at 1:43000 scale. USGS 1:24000 topographic maps were used as base maps.  Data are acceptable for planning and management although ground-truthing is advised (only about 1% of the data are said to be ground-truthed as part of NWI process). This is not a jurisdictional delineation of wetlands, hence these data are not intended for enforcement or litigation. Persons intending to engage in activities involving modifications in or adjacent to wetlands should seek advice from federal, state & local agencies concerning specific agency regulations and jurisdictions that may affect these activities.

Montana inventories were performed by Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences of South Dakota State University. Wetlands were identified on the photographs based on vegetation, visible hydrology, and geography in accordance with Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States (FWS)/OBS - 79/31 December 1979). The aerial photographs typically reflect conditions during the specific year and season when they  were taken. In addition, there is a margin of error inherent in the use of the aerial photographs. Thus, a detailed, on-the-ground and historical analysis of a single site may result in a revision of the wetland boundaries established through photographic interpretation. In addition, some small wetlands and those obscured by dense forest cover may not be included in these data.

Relevant references: The Cowardin Classification System for wetlands is described at:    Can also order NWI maps from

Responsible party contact info: For Montana data, contact Lynda Saul, Department of Environmental Quality,, 406-444-6652.

Website (for Montana data only):

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Little Blackfoot River Physical Features Inventory and Riparian Assessment

Restoration Planning: "This assessment is intended to provide landowners, agencies and interested citizens with a rational basis for restoration planning and priority setting". This type of analysis is a good example of the on-the-ground work that should occur prior to stream restoration projects.

Data Description:  This report is provided by Gary Ingman of Land & Water Consulting.  He worked with the Little Blackfoot Watershed Group to complete a riparian and channel assessment of the 34 mile reach of the Little Blackfoot River from the USFS boundary above Elliston to the Clark Fork confluence at Garrison.  The report makes conclusions and recommendations on stream flows and water quality, channel integrity, aquatic habitat, and riparian health based on data gathered from:

  • Stream Reach Surveys
  • Physical Features Inventory    

  • Aquatic Habitat Evaluation       

  • Riparian Assessment  

  • Stream Channel Morphology    

  • Pollution Source Assessment   

The report also describes restoration priorities, general recommendations, reach-specific recommendations, and data gaps and areas for further study.

Contact: Not currently available on-line, may be available through Land & Water Consulting.  For further information contact Gary Ingman at Land & Water Consulting:

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