Lyle F. Watts (1890-1962)

7th Chief of the Forest Service, 1943-1952

Lyle Watts, August 23, 1949.

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 BS 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 and spent a year organizing the forestry school at Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University). After reentering the Forest Service in 1929, he served again in the Rockies, then became regional forester in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later in Portland, Oregon. In 1943, he was appointed chief of the Forest Service.

"Forest conservation involves much more than the growing of crops on forest lands to supply raw material in one form or another for an ever-growing list of uses. Forestry must be coupled with the social and economic welfare of rural communities, especially in regions primarily dependent upon forest industries. Improving forest productivity should mean a great deal to rural America in augmenting the income of farm folk, maintaining pay rolls in small communities, and sustaining the tax base to support local government functions."

Lyle F. Watts

Watts on a range observation trip, Tonto National Forest, Arizona, May 1944.

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 Watts and Smokey

Lyle Watts at presentation of "real" Smokey Bear to Washington Zoo, June 30, 1950.

Additional Resources

Browse photos of Lyle F. Watts on the FHS Image Database.

Lyle F. Watts U.S. Forest Service Headquarters Collection Biographical File: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. [PDF]