Montana Case Study

The Upper Missouri Headwaters

We are demonstrating the Ecological Drought Framework by partnering with an ongoing drought planning process in the Upper Missouri Headwaters (UMH) in southwestern Montana, USA. The UMH is a demonstration project for the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), which is tasked to work collaboratively to promote drought resilience nationwide, and complement state, regional, tribal and local drought preparedness, planning and implementation efforts. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (MT DNRC) is the lead agency for the Montana demonstration project, and state water planners are working collaboratively with community based drought coordinators to support watershed-level drought planning within the UMH, and create a UMH basin-wide drought contingency plan based on local watershed planning efforts.

We asked how a past drought event in the UMH – a strong drought that lasted nearly six years in the early 2000’s – impacted forests, which provide important ecosystem services to the community. We are using quantitative analysis to understand what made these forests vulnerable – climatic, ecological, or landscape characteristics – with the aim of linking the specific details of vulnerability to a suite of adaptation strategies. We are modeling this ecological drought event at the same spatial extent as the drought planning effort (HUC 8 watersheds) with a machine-learning technique (Boosted Regression Trees) using datasets and variables suggested by the Ecological Drought Framework.