Geospatial Data

What is GIS Data

Welcome to the Helena National Forest GIS Data Library. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing objects and events. It combines the power of tabular and spatial databases with the visualization capabilities offered by maps. GIS provides the power to solve complicated problems, experiment with scenarios and present ideas.

These digital data are available on line free of charge. Click on the .zip link to save the file on your computer for your use. Or click on the Map Service link to view the data as a service in ArcGIS Online.  Many of these files are large, so please check the file size listed before downloading. All larger files have been compressed with the Microsoft Windows compression utility. PC users can use a zip utility such as WinZip to unzip these files.

GIS Data Disclaimer

The Forest Service uses the most current and complete data available. GIS data and product accuracy may vary. They may be: developed from sources of differing accuracy, accurate only at certain scales, based on modeling or interpretation, incomplete while being created or revised, etc. Using GIS products for purposes other than those for which they were created, may yield inaccurate or misleading results. The Forest Service reserves the right to correct, update, modify, or replace, GIS products without notification.

How to Use the GIS Data

The Geographic datasets covering the Northern Region are now available online. The Northern Region uses ESRI's GIS software (ArcGIS), and stores all corporate GIS data in one of ESRI's proprietary formats (File Geodatabase). The GIS layers available online are stored as zipped Files to conserve space and facilitate download. To use them, you must uncompress them using winzip or other compression software that recognizes these file types. In addition to their commercial software, ESRI offers ArcExplorer software free for viewing GIS data. You can download the software from the ArcExplorer web site. In addition, we provide a link to view the data in ESRI’s Online Map Viewer, ArcGIS Online.  For links to download Forest specific GIS Data, please reference the specific Forest GIS Data links.  

Spatial Data

Spatial Data is provided in ArcView shapefile format. These files can be used in ArcGIS, ArcView, or ArcExplorer GIS software packages. ArcExplorer is a free spatial data viewer that can read Arc/Info data sets. There is a free import utility that will import Arc/Info export files available from Many other GIS and graphics software packages have a utility to import these files.

Tabular Data

Tabular Data is generally provided in dBase IV format. These files can be imported into Arc/Info, ArcView, or ArcExplorer GIS software packages and joined to their associated gis coverages. An additional file containing documentation may be included with the tabular data.

What is Metadata?

Metadata is data about data. Users are strongly advised to read the metadata to insure the data set is appropriate for their needs. Click on .htm in the metadata column of the data set of interest to view the metadata. Each metatdata will provide a general description of the data set, geographic information about the data set, how the data set was built, any updates to the data set, any associated database tables with the data set, descriptions of data set attributes, and other valuable information.

About the Online Themes

Unless otherwise noted, all datasets are single, region wide GIS layers, and are in NAD83 Albers projection. This data represents the best data currently available at the region. It is not necessarily complete and accuracy is limited to 1:24000 USGS cartographic standards or less. The Forest Service does not guarantee the accuracy or currency of any of this data. As the forest's database is updated or requests for data change, this list will be updated.

More Information

Contact any Helena National Forest Offices, and ask for any of the GIS Specialists.