FLBS History

View of Yellow Bay from the FLBS dock
View of Yellow Bay from the picnic area

History of the Flathead Lake Biological Station

Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana is one of the oldest active biological field research stations in the United States. It was established near Bigfork in 1899 by its first director, Dr. Morton J. Elrod, UM Distinguished Professor of Biology. It was moved to Yellow Bay in 1908.

Since opening in 1899, students from around the country and all over the world have come to the station to learn firsthand about biology. By 1977, year-round research was being conducted onsite in the Morton J. Elrod Laboratory. In 1981, the construction of the state-of-the-art Schoonover Freshwater Research Laboratory added the ability to conduct onsite chemical water analyses to the suite of research tools employed at the Flathead Lake Biological Station vaulting it into position as one of the finest freshwater research facilities in the country.

The Flathead Lake Biological Station itself is located on a peninsula that shelters Yellow Bay from the main body of Flathead Lake. The grounds include a springbrook and an old growth stand of Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and larch. The station also has land on Bull Island and Polson Bay, and co-manages the Bird Islands.

Students and visiting faculty live in cabins along the lake shoreline or in a winterized dormitory. The grounds are home to several full-time residents including the director, visiting research staff and a caretaker who live with their families in homes and apartments on the station grounds. Students and faculty dine together in the Prescott Center, a commissary and meeting complex. Four laboratory buildings house the inside biology, limnology, and ecology labs and specialized research projects. Ongoing laboratory services and limnology research is based in the Schoonover Freshwater Research Laboratory.

For more information about FLBS or its history, contact us.

History by the Years

  • 1891 - S. A. Forbes, one of the world's first notable aquatic scientists, completes the first study of Flathead Lake.
  • 1893 - The University of Montana chartered.
  • 1899 - FLBS founded by Professor Morton J. Elrod in the "River House" on the Swan River at Bigfork; Elrod establishes FLBS as the "Sentinel of the Lake."
  • 1901 - First organized summer academic session for college students held at FLBS.
  • 1905 - Professor Morton J. Elrod, "More and more the work done here is attracting the attention of science men throughout the country. Morton J. Elrod..."
  • 1910 - FLBS notoriety and work of Elrod helps establish Glacier National Park.
  • 1910 - Elrod moves FLBS to the current Yellow Bay property granted to UM by Federal government.
  • 1912 - The "Brick Lab" constructed with $5,000 appropriation from Montana legislature.
  • 1915 - First detailed study of Flathead Lake fishes by Station scientist Robert L. Young and Elrod.
  • 1924 - "Elrod's Guide To Glacier National Park" published as official guidebook of Park.
  • 1929 - R. L. Young publishes "Botany and Zoology of Flathead Lake."
  • 1933 - Elrod's last summer as Director and FLBS closes due to lack of funding.
  • 1934 - Professor Joseph Severy is appointed Director and fights to keep the Bio Station relevant and funded during a time of inactivity until 1936.
  • 1934 - J. J. Johnsrud hired as caretaker of FLBS and begins his Yellow Bay Diaries, daily chronicles of Johnsrud's life watching over the "sleeping" Biological Station.
  • 1935 - R. L. Young publishes "Life of Flathead Lake" in Ecological Monographs; Kerr Dam completed.
  • 1937 - Professor Gordon Castle becomes Director and reopens FLBS with gusto from a cadre of soon-to-be-famous young ecologists teaching a full slate of classes; 40 cabins, 4 classroom buildings, a maintenance shop, caretaker home and boathouse are constructed around the Brick Lab.
  • 1951 - Professor Gerald W. Prescott, world-famous aquatic ecologist, begins work at FLBS.
  • 1953 - Hungry Horse Dam completed on the South Fork of the Flathead River.
  • 1955 - First field classes for high school biology teachers held at FLBS.
  • 1962 - Professor Richard A. Solberg becomes Director; adds research emphasis to the highly successful summer academic program.
  • 1964 - Largest flood on record occurs in the Flathead River.
  • 1967 - New Elrod Lab constructed with National Science Foundation funding, replacing the old Brick Lab.
  • 1970 - Professor John F. Tibbs becomes Director; initiates year-round research and maintains student enrollment in the summer sessions at an all time high.
  • 1973 - EPA funds first large pollution study by FLBS of Flathead Lake; Yellow Bay Sewage Treatment plant built as a demonstration in pollution control.
  • 1974 - FLBS benefactor Dr. Jessie M. Bierman funds construction of winterized housing for researchers.
  • 1976 - Proposed Cabin Creek Coal mine in Canada threatens Flathead River-Lake ecosystem.
  • 1977 - EPA funds $4M 5-year Flathead River Basin Study that initiates year-round research.
  • 1979 - FLBS scientists organize the world's first international symposium on regulated Streams.
  • 1980 - Jack Stanford becomes Director; initiates ecosystem research emphasis and dramatically increases research funding and a permanent scientific staff.
  • 1981 - Freshwater Research Lab completed with $850K from Fleischmann Foundation, Reno, Nevada.
  • 1983 - First lakewide bloom of pollution algae in Flathead Lake is reported by FLBS scientists; Montana legislature creates the Flathead Basin Commission to oversee pollution control and authorizes Flathead and Lake counties to ban the sale of phosphorus-containing detergents.
  • 1984 - FLBS research clearly underscores decision by the International Joint Commission that Cabin Creek Coal mine not be developed due to potential impacts on Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake.
  • 1986 - Dr. Jessie Bierman creates distinguished professorship at FLBS; Prescott Forum, a dormitory and commissary, is completed with $800K of UM funds.
  • 1987 - Kokanee fishery in Flathead Lake collapses due to invasion of nonnative mysid shrimps; FLBS research documents consequences of this new problem.
  • 1987 - FLBS hosts international scientific think-tank on river ecology sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), substantially changing the discipline in theory and practice.
  • 1989 - "Jessie B," the FLBS research vessel, is launched with $80K from the NSF.
  • 1991 - FLBS hosts international meeting on effects of dams on rivers.
  • 1993 - Second lakewide bloom of pollution algae occurs; water quality concerns increase.
  • 1995 - FLBS surface-groundwater research supports Federal Reserve Water Rights for Glacier National Park.
  • 1995 - Construction of advanced wastewater plants, recommended by FLBS research, completed in Kalispell, Bigfork, Whitefish and Columbia Falls further reducing pollution loads to Flathead Lake.
  • 1996 - FLBS hosts international meeting of aquatic ecologists in Kalispell; 835 scientists attend.
  • 1999 - FLBS celebrates 100 years as "Sentinel of the Lake;" over 800 valley residents attend the festivities.
  • 2000 - Distinguished Limnology professorship established through $1M contribution.
  • 2001 - NSF funds $2.6M study of Nyack floodplain biocomplexity.
  • 2003 - Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards $1.6M for biodiversity and bioproductivity studies of pristine Pacific salmon ecosystems.
  • 2004 - FLBS hosts Mayfly/Stonefly International Meeting. FLBS director receives Award of Excellence from the North American Benthological Society.
  • 2005 - Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards $1.7M for development of a typology for all medium to large salmon bearing streams along the Pacific Rim.
  • 2006 - FLBS river research results in the creation of the Kol River protected area in Russia, the world's first salmon preserve.
  • 2007 - Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards a 3-year $4.6M grant to continue studying pristine salmon and trout watersheds.
  • 2007 to 2008 - NASA funds $2.7M for land-surface freeze/thaw state study; PPL Montana funds $619K for Flathead Lake northshore erosion projects; AYK SSI funds $268K to study ecotypic variation in AYK sockeye stocks.
  • 2008 - Hauer heads up $600,000 effort on N. Fork Flathead baseline in response to extractive industry threats to the Flathead watershed
  • 2008 - Windstorm on December 13 downs trees, including +350 yr old P. pines, with spikes above 100 mph
  • 2009 - FLBS is a founding member of Flathead Basin Aquatic Invasive Species working group.
  • 2009 - Walton Family Foundation Gift of $1.15M provides for 2 new faculty hires and a 'green technology' retrofit for Elrod building plus research support building, and director's residence remodel
  • 2009 - NSF funds collaborative research focused on bioeconomic linkages of the greater Glacier, Yellowstone and Salmon River ecosystems that is linked a second project funded by NSF for collaboration between FLBS, Yellowstone Ecosystem Research Center and Taylor Wilderness Ranch (U. Idaho), and the Montana NSF-EPSCoR program.
  • 2010 - research by FLBS and partners results in US and Canadian government agreement about long-term protection of North Fork Flathead River from energy development and mining.
  • 2010 - SaRON Program, a decade of salmonid research and conservation in North Pacific River, draws to close; FLBS upgrades cyberinfrastructure with funding from NSF EPSCoR
  • 2011 - FLBS faculty Bonnie Ellis and Jack Stanford publish import scientific paper summarizing 100+ years of biological community changes in Flathead Lake, titled "Long-term effects of a trophic cascade in a large lake ecosystem" in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • 2011 - FLBS develops and installs two environmental sensor networks. One on Flathead Lake (LakeNET), includes nine meteorological stations around the lake of which two are buoys with water quality sensors that use radio and telemetry to push data to long-term databases for pure and applied lake research. The other, RiverNET is installed on the Middle Fork Flathead Rivers Nyack Floodplain, FLBS' long-term river research site.
  • 2012 - The Freshwater Research Lab receives instrumentation, data management platform improvements and facilities renovation through M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust award of $435K and NSF matching funds of $436K for a total award of $871K.
  • 2012 - Anonymous local donor provides $1M Challenge Grant to endow fund for lake water quality monitoring research agreeing to match dollar for dollar all funds raised up to $1 million over period of three year
  • 2013 - FLBS starts using environmental DNA techniques pioneered by FLBS faculty Gordon Luikart for early detection of Zebra and Quagga Mussels.
  • 2014 - FLBS creates $1M endowment for Flathead Lake Monitoring via community contributions.
  • 2015 - "Jessie B," the FLBS research vessel, is revitalized with new engines, outdrives, hydraulics, and electronics with $130K of philanthropic funds.
  • 2015 - Jim Elser becomes Director; long-term Director Jack Stanford retires.
  • 2016 - NSF funds SensorSpace at FLBS to invent, manufacture, test, and deploy new environmental sensors for scientific research.
  • 2016 - FLBS initiates undergraduate internship program.
  • 2016 - FLBS expands education program to engage K-12 in both the classroom and at FLBS.
  • 2017 - FLBS completes new boathouse to house "Jessie B" and other boats with $125K of philanthropic funds.



© 2017 FLBS, UM
updated: 7/31/2017 9:11 am