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History - Lyle F. Watts, Seventh Chief, 1943-1952

History Home > Leadership Time Line > Watts

A picture of former Forest Service Chief Watts
Lyle Ford Watts was born in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, in 1890. He was a graduate of the Iowa State College school of forestry earning both the B.S. in forestry in 1913 and the master of forestry degree in 1928. He entered the Forest Service in 1913 in the Rockies. In 1928, he left the Forest Service to serve for a year to organize the school of forestry at Utah State Agricultural College (Utah State University now). After reentering the Forest Service in 1929, he served again in the Rockies, then to become regional forester in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later in Portland, Oregon. In 1943, he was appointed as chief of the Forest Service.

Watts served as chief during much of the turbulent war years. Yet with the obvious progress being made in the war effort, his attention turned to planning what the national forests and the Forest Service would be like after the war. He and his staff quickly realized that the national forests should be opened up to development that was scientific and orderly. The aftermath of the war saw many of the GIs going back to college, with the fields of professional forestry and engineering taking many candidates through to graduation. Watts encouraged the Forest Service to hire these new graduates to assist in the development of forest road systems and intensively managed, sustained yield forests.

Watts oversaw the expansion of the federal role of cooperator with the various states and private industry in the fields of forest fire protection, pest control, tree planting, woodland management and harvesting, wood product marketing and processing, grazing, and so on. Watts was a member of the technical committee on forestry and primary forest products of the United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture in 1944 and 1945.

Lyle F. Watts wrote: The conservation movement...has made much headway. Today we have a splendid system of national forests making many important contributions to local communities and to the national welfare. The timber and other resources of these national forests are managed for a sustained yield, for permanent and continuing production and use in the public interest. Our national forests are furnishing an increasingly significant portion of the country’s timber supply; they are protecting vitally important sources of water; their grazing lands contribute to the nation’s supply of meat, wool, and leather; they afford recreational opportunities for millions of people. Their returns to the public in timber production, water supplies, flood control, livestock production, wildlife, recreation, and other services far exceed the costs of administration. It would indeed be difficult to place a dollars and cents value on many of their services and benefits...

We need aggressive action to control unwise or destructive timber cutting–to establish certain basic rules of practice that will assure continued productivity of the forests...We need also to tighten up still more our protection of the forests from fire. We need more protection work against destructive insects and diseases...We need intensive education and other cooperative services to help forest owners improve their forests and practice real sustained yield management. We need to strengthen the public forests. We need to eliminate over-grazing and build up run-down ranges. We need to improve the condition of many watersheds. We need to replant or reseed millions of depleted acres to restore them to productivity.

And we need to get on with these things now. Time is matching on. For a century and more this country has been taking much from the land but putting little back. We cannot keep on that way indefinitely. We have grown rich in worldly goods, but we are getting poorer in the natural resources that are the basis of those goods....Ours is a nation capable of doing things in a big way. We should aim high. Our goal should be continued abundance, not just to get by (Journal of Forestry, Vol. 48, #2 [Feb. 1950]: 82-83).

 

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Last modified March 23, 2013
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