Forest Service Partners with U of M to Prepare Students for Careers in High Tech

Students enhanced Vegetation Analysis Model used for Forest Plan Revisions

Two male students presenting
Michael Kinsey (left) and Greg McMann (right) present at the 2017 University of Montana Conference on Undergraduate Research. The presentation was entitled “Integrating Cellular Percolation Fire Spread into an Existing Landscape Model”.

Missoula, Montana - The Forest Service’s Northern Region and the University of Montana have teamed up to create a program that helps prepare college students for careers in the high tech industry. This spring, three students are graduating with skills they developed in part through an agreement between the Northern Region and the University.

“When we asked local tech companies what they look for in applicants, collaborative project development, work on open-source software and Java programming skills were at the top of the list. This agreement with the Forest Service allows the students to develop all of these,” said Dr. Douglas Raiford, the program’s leader at the University. “From the beginning, we knew this was going to be a great addition to our Computer Science curriculum.”

The Forest Service also benefits from the Agreement. The software the students maintain, OpenSIMPPLLE, is the primary vegetation analysis model the Northern Region uses to support Forest Plan revisions, including the Nez Perce Clearwater, Flathead, Lewis and Clark Helena and Custer Gallatin National Forests. Last summer (2016), students Gregory McMann and Michael Kinsey updated the software to include a fire spreading algorithm developed by RMRS researcher Dr. Robert Keane. “I was impressed with how quickly these students built this into the model,” said Keane. “This is an excellent step in the right direction,” he added.

“I’m still pulling together my resume,” said Gregory McMann, one of the graduating seniors working on the project, “and my work on OpenSIMPPLLE for the Forest Service is definitely one of the things I’m going to highlight. I’m optimistic it will make me look very competitive.”

The OpenSIMPPLLE model is available for download through the University of Montana website:

Two maps displaying graphical representation of OpenSIMPPLLE model
Graphical representation of OpenSIMPPLLE model results using the updated fire spreading algorithm. On the left, the red and orange areas show simulated fires and other colors represent other disturbances such as beetles and disease. The impact of these disturbances on size class is shown on the right..