Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation

Department or School/College

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Dr. Alexander L. Metcalf

Committee Co-chair

Dr. Thomas H. Deluca

Commitee Members

Dr. Robert O. Hall Jr.


Bacteroides, E. coli, coliform, Wilderness Management, ddPCR, water quality


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Environmental Monitoring | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Water Resource Management


Wilderness water sources are often defined as pristine or high quality due to the lack of point source pollution. Non-point source pollution from recreation to water resources can be extensive and is well-studied in protected areas globally. Bacterial contamination, specifically fecal bacteria, poses a significant threat to human health because of the risk for outbreaks of illness and disease. Water sources in designated Wilderness areas are particularly vulnerable to fecal water contamination due to high volume of backpackers and lack of backcountry waste facilities. To estimate the occurrence of fecal water contamination in Wilderness water resources, an exploratory analysis was conducted at various lakes across the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, MT/WY using fecal indicator bacterium (FIB), total coliform/Escherichia coli. At sites that tested positive for the FIB, microbial source tracking (MST) via ddPCR was conducted using a human-specific Bacteroides marker (BacHu) and a universal Bacteroides marker (AllBac) to determine the contribution of humans to total Bacteroides contamination in water sources. Results of our analysis reveal the occurrence of fecal indicator bacteria and evidence of human fecal contamination at a number of sites. In addition, management interventions such as setbacks may not be having their desired or intended effect on protecting water quality. To protect Wilderness Character and water quality managers must take additional steps to prevent fecal water contamination in Wilderness areas while maintaining a rigorous aquatic monitoring program.



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