In northwestern Montana, wooded vernal pools occur from valley bottoms to montane elevations ranging from 866-1,585 meters (2,840-5,200 feet). Wooded vernal pools are small, shallow, circumneutral freshwater wetlands of glacial origin that partially or totally dry up as the growing season progresses. Pools are generally found on valley bottoms, lower benches, toe slopes, and flat sites. This system is well represented in the Seeley-Swan Valley in northwestern Montana. Depending on annual patterns of temperature and precipitation, the drying of the pond may be complete or partial by the fall. These sites are usually shallow and less than 1 meter in depth, but can be as much as 2 meters deep. The pool substrate is a poorly drained, often clayey layer with shallow organic sediments. Wooded vernal pools have a ring of trees surrounding the ponds that provide shade and influence their hydrology. The surrounding forest generally includes grand fir (Abies grandis), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), western larch (Larix occidentalis), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa), and, to a lesser extent, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and paper birch (Betula papyrifera). In Montana, water howellia (Howellia aquatilis), a federally threatened species, is found only in wooded vernal pools. Other common species include water starwort (Callitriche heterophylla), inflated sedge (Carex vesicaria), common spikerush (Eleocharis palustris), and reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea).
This system occurs in northern Idaho and western Montana. West of the Continental Divide, in the Seeley-Swan Valley, there is a large concentration of pools and ponds occurring within forested environments. East of the Continental Divide, glaciated pools and ponds occur at elevations up to 1585 m (5,200 feet), particularly in the forested foothill and montane zones of the glaciated pothole region.
Approximately 3 square kilometers are classified as Rocky Mountain Wooded Vernal Pool in the 2017 Montana Land Cover layers.
Grid on map is based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle map boundaries.
Carbon, Cascade, Deer Lodge, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Granite, Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Meagher, Missoula, Park, Pondera, Powell, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Teton, Wheatland
In northwestern Montana, these ponds and pools occur in forested environments. Occurrences are found from valley bottoms to montane elevations ranging from 866 to 1,585 m (2,840-5,200 feet) (Mincemoyer, 2005). This system is well represented in the Seeley-Swan valley in northwestern Montana. Pools are generally found on valley bottoms, lower benches, toeslopes, and flat sites, often in glaciated kettleholes that vary in size and depth.
Depending on annual patterns of temperature and precipitation, the drying of the pond may be complete or partial by the fall or during drought years. However, many of these ponds remain at fairly constant water levels throughout the growing season. These sites can be shallow and less than 1 meter (3.3 feet) in depth, but can be as much as 2 meters (6 feet) deep. The pool substrate is a poorly drained, often clayey layer with shallow organic sediments. Parent materials are typically clay alluvium or clay colluvium (Mincemoyer, 2005). These freshwater ponds have pH ranges from 6.2 to 7.8 with most measurements between 6.5 and 7.5. The size of the pools/ponds can range from .4 to 4 hectares (1-10 acres) in size.
The overstory surrounding vernal wooded pools is typically a mixed coniferous forest consisting of grand fir,, subalpine fir, western larch, Engelmannspruce,lodgepolepine, Douglas-fir, and deciduous trees like black cottonwood and, to a lesser extent, quaking aspen and paper birch. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) often borders the ponds, especially in the northern Swan Valley. Common shrubs occurring in the forest edges surrounding the pools include thinleaf alder (Alnus incana), redoiser dogwood (Cornus sericea), buckthorn alder (Rhamnus alnifolia), and willows (Salix spp.).
The herbaceous component is dominated by graminoids such as shortawn foxtail (Alopecurus aequalis), water sedge(Carex aquatilis), beaked sedge (Carex utriculata), inflated sedge, common spikerush, and rushes (Juncus spp.). Other characteristic species include woolyfruit sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), awned sedge (Carex atherodes), and wooly sedge (Carex pellita). Reed canarygrass is invasive in this system.
Water starwort (Callitriche species), pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.), burr reed (Sparganium spp.), white water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), common mare’s tail (Hippuris vulgaris), bladderworts (Utricularia spp.), field mint (Mentha arvensis), and yellowcress (Rorippa spp.) are common herbaceous plant associates. Horsetails (Equisetum spp.) are often present. In Lake and Missoula counties, wooded vernal pools are habitat for water howellia, a federally threatened species. This annual aquatic may undergo dramatic yearly fluctuations in population size.
Many of the pools in the Swan Valley remain at a fairly constant water level year round. In some cases, these pools can partially or completely dry down, depending on temperature, precipitation patterns and pool depth, by late fall. Prolonged drought caused by changing climatic patterns will impact the populations of species such as water howellia occurring within these pools.
Adjacent land uses surrounding wooded vernal pool can potentially alter their hydrology, including grazing and timber harvest. Due to the lack of genetic variability in sampled water howellia populations, multiple pond clusters of inhabited and potential water howellia pools should be protected (Lesica et al., 1988.)