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Robert Pfister

Forestry Pioneer

Bob PfisterRobert D. Pfister has been a significant contributor to Montana Forestry in many ways since he moved to Montana in1967 as a Project Leader with Forest Service Research and as an active member in the State Chapter of the Society of American Foresters. In 1968, he helped train Forest Service people in Western Montana to use Dr. Rexford Daubenmire’s Northern Idaho forest habitat type classification for use in Montana, with some difficulties with the extrapolation.  When Pfister became Leader of the Forest Ecosystem Research Unit in 1970 the top research priority was to extend Daubenmire’s classification to the Forest Service Northern Rocky Mountain and Intermountain Regions as an ecological foundation for site classification for forest research and management.

Based on his PhD research experience in Utah subalpine forests, the stage was set to define Forest Habitat Types for most of Montana with the financial backing and formal cooperation of the Forest Service Northern Region.

By 1975, a draft publication of Habitat Types of Montana was presented in a major training session that was used until the final publication of “Forest Habitat Types of Montana” was formally published in 1977.

Pfister continued to provide annual training sessions to help field users accurately identify and apply the classification. Use and popularity of the classification by many disciplines continued to grow and most field people and numerous researchers have discovered many applications beyond the preliminary management implications originally provided in the classification.  Pfister has continued to provide annual training sessions for professionals new to Montana almost every year through 2019.

In 1980, R. Pfister and S. Arno published “Classifying Potential Natural Vegetation based on Potential Climax Vegetation” in Forest Science as a methodology paper using the Montana example.  Pfister also was a co-author on similar classification publications for Central Idaho and Eastern Idaho/Western Wyoming and a consultant for Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and a revision for Northern Idaho, all using the same methodology and philosophy.  By 1980, Most of the Rocky Mountains had comparable Forest Habitat Type classifications.

In 2018, Pfister was honored by the International Association for Vegetation Science, for his outstanding contributions to vegetation science in the Northern Rocky Mountains.  Dr. David Roberts, Montana State University, presented the award with the following comments:  1. The classification projects also "led Bob to consider the greater potential of vegetation science in natural resource management.", and 2.  Pfister took what had been considered an academic classification system and turned it into the widely used tool that's still in use today.

Other Significant Contributions include: Leadership of the Inland Northwest Growth and Yield Cooperative helped facilitate better understanding of applications of Growth and Yield Models for understanding and predicting stand development and Leadership of the cooperative Montana Riparian Program led to publishing a comprehensive Monograph for understanding and managing Riparian and Wetland Vegetation and sites in Montana.  Most of his research was documented in over 50 published articles and symposium proceeding contributions.

ROBERT D. PFISTER holds a B.S. degree in forest management from Iowa State University (1960), a M.S. degree in silviculture from Oregon State University (1964), and a Ph.D. in botany (plant ecology and soils) from Washington State University (1972). His dissertation for the Ph.D degree under Rexford Daubenmire was          “ Vegetation and Soils of the Subalpine Forests of Utah”.

 Pfister joined the USDA, Forest Service, Intermountain Experiment Station staff in 1961 as a Research Forester in Western White Pine Silviculture in northern Idaho. In 1967 he moved to Missoula as Leader of the Western Larch and Engelmann Spruce Silviculture Research Work Unit. From 1970 to 1981 he served as Leader of the Forest Ecosystem Research Work Unit.  

Following this career with USFS Research, Pfister was hired at The University of Montana in 1981 to direct the newly, state-funded Mission-Oriented Research Program (MORP) as part of the Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station (MFCES) within what is today the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. Under MORP emphasis on multiple resource second-growth management, many Forestry Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Students conducted a wide range of studies at Lubrecht Experimental Forest.  Pfister also became the first Director of a still-running Inland Northwest Growth and Yield Cooperative (INGY) and Director of the Montana Riparian Cooperative which produced a major MFCES Monograph, “Classification and Management of Montana’s Riparian and Wetland Sites” in 1995.  Pfister also was an active partner in the cooperative Bitterroot Ecosystem Management Research Program from 1995 to 2005 on Landscape Ecology Analyses. He also served as the Associate Director of the Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station for several years until formal retirement in 2000.

During his sojourn at the University, Pfister also taught at least one Graduate Course a year on Forest Ecology and/or on Landscape Ecology Design and Management, which were also offered as Summer Short Courses through UM Continuing Education for graduate natural resource professionals.    

He worked full time for The University of Montana from 1981 until formal retirement on the last day of 2000, although he continued in a part-time capacity for several more years.

Pfister first joined the Society of American Foresters as a student in 1960, served as State Society president for two years, was elected as a Fellow in 2003, received a Golden Award in 2010, and is still active in the Society.   He also has been an active member of the Ecological Society of America since 1966.

Pfister still teaches a short course on Forest Vegetation of Montana almost every June (since 1972).





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