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Federal hydrologist to speak on forests and drinking water

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A view of the surrounding mountains from the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s Indian Ridge Trail near Big Sky. PHOTO BY CIARA WOLFE


On March 26, the Department of Ecology at Montana State University will host visiting forest hydrologist Kelly Mott LaCroix for a presentation on the relationship between forests and drinking water. Held at 3:30 p.m. in Lewis Hall on the Bozeman campus, the talk is titled “Beyond Timber and Trekking: Exploring the Role National Forests and Grasslands Play in Protecting Drinking Water Supplies.”

Typically, when thinking about U.S. Forest Service lands, event organizers say the public tends to think about the readily-visible values of public forests, such as recreation, timber harvest or mineral extraction. There are, however, inconspicuous benefits of national forests, such as the role they play in providing abundant clean water for drinking and irrigation.

When National Forest System lands were set aside 100 year ago, it was considered a measure to protect water supplies—today, one in five Americans rely on water supplies that originate on national forest lands, the organizers say.

LaCroix’s presentation will explore the history of watershed management and provide an analysis of the role these lands play in protecting water supplies. She will draw upon surface and groundwater data, and discuss some of the possibilities for innovative partnerships to improve and protect watershed conditions on our nation’s forests and grasslands in the future.

“Kelly’s work brings together mapped data on drinking water sources and national forest boundaries to shed light on one of the most important, but often underappreciated, values of our public lands,” said Travis Belote, a research ecologist for The Wilderness Society and an affiliate of MSU’s Burkle Lab. “It isn’t an exaggeration to say that national forests literally serve as natural water towers for tens of millions of people. If you live in an area with any visible mountains, chances are that those mountains play some role in providing you with drinking water and they are likely public land.”

LaCroix serves as the forest hydrologist and watershed program manager for the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Over the past decade, she has worked at the national and state levels, as well as within academia and the nonprofit sector on watershed hydrology, water management and policy. She received her doctorate from the Arid Lands Resource Sciences program at the University of Arizona, where she studied environmental flow needs of desert ecosystems and effective mechanisms for stakeholder engagement.

For more information, contact Meghan Heim at (406) 944-2018 or

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