Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest (TCEF)

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Tenderfoot experimental watershed, after Jencso et al., 2011



The Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest (TCEF) is located in the Little Belt Mountains of Montana, USA. The TCEF consists of 11 nested headwater catchments that drain into Smith River, a tributary to the Missouri River.

Lat. 46° 55' N, long. 110° 55' W

Catchment size

The research area consists of seven gauged catchments that form the headwaters of Tenderfoot Creek (22.8 sqkm).


The climate in the Little Belt Mountains is continental. Annual precipitation in the TCEF averages 880 mm and ranges from 594 to 1050 mm/y from the lowest to highest elevations. Snowfall composes 75% of the annual precipitation with snowmelt and peak runoff generally occurring in late May or early June. The lowest runoff occurs in late summer through the winter months.


The geology is composed of Wolsey shale and Flathead sandstone at higher elevations and transitions to granite gneiss at lower elevations. Geologic strata are differentially permeable with the greatest potential for deeper groundwater exchange at geologic contacts, fractures in the Wolsey shale, and along the weakly cemented laminae in the more permeable sandstone strata. Soil depths are relatively consistent across the landscape (0.5–1.0 m in hillslope positions and 0.5–2 m in riparian positions) with localized upland areas of deeper soils (~3 m). The major soil types are characterized as loamy skeletal, mixed typic Cryochrepts located along hillslope positions, and clayey, mixed Aquic Cryboralfs in riparian zones and parks


Catchment headwater zones are typified by moderately sloping (average slope 8°) extensive (up to 1200 m long) hillslopes and variable width (0.5–52 m) riparian zones. Approaching the main stem of Tenderfoot Creek the streams become more incised, hillslopes become shorter (<500 m) and steeper (average slope 20°), and riparian areas narrow relative to the catchment headwaters.

Vegetation/Land use

The dominant forms of vegetation include lodgepole pine (overstory; Pinus contorta) and grouse whortleberry (understory; Vaccinium scoparium) in hillslope positions and bluejoint reedgrass (Calmagrostis canadensis) in riparian positions.

Context of investigation

  • forest monitoring and health
  • spatial fuel analysis
  • hydrologic processes including water quality, sediment transport and discharge
  • climate
  • sustainable silvaculture methods


  • Meteorological station dating from 1996 to the present are available
  • Flux tower
  • Runoff/ Water level monitoring includes seven flumes and one weir for eight gauged catchments where continuous streamflow ismeasured with stream level recorders
  • Piezometers
  • Soil moisture (TDR nests)
  • two snow survey telemetry (SNOTEL) stations (Onion Park, 2259 m, and Stringer Creek, 1996 m) record real-time data on snow depth, snow water equivalent, precipitation, radiation, and wind speed
  • snow lysimters

Links to project webpages

Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest

other Links


  • Bergstrom, A., Jencso, K., McGlynn, B.L., 2016. Spatiotemporal processes that contribute to hydrologic exchange between hillslopes, valley bottoms, and streams, Water Resour. Res., 52(6), 4628-4645, DOI: 10.1002/2015WR017972.
  • Farnes, P.E., Shearer, R.C., McCaughey, W.W., Hansen, K.J., 1995. Comparisons of Hydrology, Geology, and Physical Characteristics Between Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest (East Side) Montana, and Coram Experimental Forest (West Side) Montana, 19 pp., USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Bozeman, MT.
  • Freeze, R.A., and Cherry, J.A., 1979. Groundwater, 604 pp., Prentice- Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
  • Holdorf, H.D., 1981. Soil Resource Inventory, Lewis and Clark National Forest Interim In-Service Report, on file with the Lewis and Clark National Forest, Forest Supervisor’s Office, Great Falls, MT.
  • Jencso, K.G. and McGlynn, B.L., 2011. Hierarchical controls on runoff generation: Topographically driven hydrologic connectivity, geology, and vegetation. Water Resour. Res., 47, W11527, DOI: 10.1029/2011WR010666.
  • Jencso, K.G., McGlynn, B.L., Gooseff, M.N., Bencala, K.E., Wondzell, S.M., 2010. Hillslope hydrologic connectivity controls riparian groundwater turnover: Implications of catchment structure for riparian buffering and stream water sources, Water Resour. Res., 46, W10524, DOI: 10.1029/2009WR008818.
  • Jencso, K.G., McGlynn, B.L., Gooseff, M.N., Wondzell, S.M., Bencala, K.E., Marshall, L.A., 2009. Hydrologic connectivity between landscapes and streams: Transferring reach-and plot-scale understanding to the catchment scale, Water Resour. Res., 45,W04428, DOI: 10.1029/2008WR007225.
  • Kaiser, K.E., McGlynn, B.L., Emanuel, R.E., 2013. Ecohydrology of an outbreak: mountain pine beetle impacts trees in drier landscape positions first, ECOHYDROLOGY, 6(3), 444-454, DOI: 10.1002/eco.1286.
  • Kelleher, C., Wagnere, T., McGlynn, B.L., 2015. Model-based analysis of the influence of catchment properties on hydrologic partitioning across five mountain headwater subcatchments, Water Resour. Res., 51, 4109–4136, DOI: 10.1002/2014WR016147.
  • Keyes, C.R., Perry, T.E., Sutherland, E.K., Wright, D.K., Egan, J.M., 2014. Variable-Retention Harvesting as a Silvicultural Option for Lodgepole Pine, JOURNAL OF FORESTRY, 112(5), 440-445, DOI: 10.5849/jof.13-100.
  • Liang, L.L., Riveros-Iregui, D.A., Emanuel, R.E., McGlynn, B.L., 2014. A simple framework to estimate distributed soil temperature from discrete air temperature measurements in data-scarce regions, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 119(2), 407-417, DOI: 10.1002/2013JD020597.
  • Long, J.N., Schmidt, W.C., Friede J.L. (compilers), 1996. T.W. Daniel Experimental Forest: Experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds in the Northern Rocky Mountains: A compendium of Outdoor Laboratories in Utah, Idaho, and Montana, pp., 31–36, USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-334.
  • Mincemoyer, S.A. and Birdsall, J.L. 2006. Vascular flora of the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental, Little Belt Mountains, Montana, MADRONO, 53(3), 211–222.
  • Mitchell, S.R., Emanuel, R.E., McGlynn, B.L., 2015. Land–atmosphere carbon and water flux relationships to vapor pressure deficit, soil moisture, and stream flow, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 208, 108–117, DOI: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2015.04.003.
  • Nippgen, F., McGlynn, B.L., Marshall, L.,A., Emanuel, R.,E., 2011. Landscape structure and climate influences on hydrologic response, Water Resour. Res., 47, W12528, DOI: 10.1029/2011WR011161.
  • Pacific, V.J., Jensco, K.G., McGlynn, B.L. 2010. Variable flushing mechanisms and landscape structure control stream DOC export during snowmelt in a set of nested catchments, Biogeochemistry 99, 193–211, DOI: 10.1007/s10533-009-9401-1.
  • Pacific, V.J., McGlynn, B.L., Riveros-Iregui, D.R., Welsch, D.L., Epstein, HE. 2008. Variability in soil respiration across riparian-hillslope transitions, Biogeochemistry 91, 51–70, DOI: 10.1007/s10533-008-9258-8.
  • Reynolds, M., 1995. Geology of Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest, Little Belt Mountains, Meagher County, Montana, in Hydrologic and Geologic Characteristics of Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest, Montana, Final Rep. RJVA-INT-782 92734, edited by P. Farnes, Intermt. Res. Stn., For. Serv., U.S. Dept. of Agric., Bozeman, Mont.
  • Smith, T., Marshall, L., McGlynn, B.L., Jencso, K., 2013. Using field data to inform and evaluate a new model of catchment hydrologic connectivity, Water Resour. Res., 49(10), 6834-6846, DOI: 10.1002/wrcr.20546.
  • Smith, T., Hayes, K., Marshall, L., McGlynn, B.L., Jencso, K., 2016. Diagnostic calibration and cross-catchment transferability of a simple process-consistent hydrologic model, Hydrol. Process., 30(26), DOI: 10.1002/hyp.10955.
  • Welch, C.M., Stoy, P.C., Rains, F.A., Johnson, A.V., McGlynn, B.L. 2016. The impacts of mountain pine beetle disturbance on the energy balance of snow during the melt period, Hydrol. Process., 30(4), 588-602, DOI: 10.1002/hyp.10638.
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