Washington legislature creates the Department of Natural Resources in 1957.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 2/25/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5293

In 1957, the Washington legislature creates the Department of Natural Resources to consolidate the work of several agencies responsible for state and privately owned forests and forest practices.

In 1956, Bert Cole (1910-1993) was elected Commissioner of Public Lands along with a governor and a legislature of the same party. This made possible the passing of legislation first proposed in 1933 to bring together the Division of Forestry, the Department of Conservation and Development, and the Land Department. The legislature also created a State Forest Board consisting of the governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction (state forests were to benefit schools), the Commissioner of Public Lands, the Dean of the University of Washington College of Forestry, and the Dean of Agricultural Sciences of Washington State University. The State Forest Board advised the Department of Natural Resources. One department would better be able to manage state lands, regulate the timber harvest, and guarantee a sustainable yield of timber through reforestation.

The Department of Natural Resources also took control of forest fire prevention and suppression on public and private lands. This resulted in the transition of the Washington Forest Fire Association into the Washington Forest Protection Association in 1958.

Beginning in 1908, the Washington Forest Fire Association had fought forest fires on private land with patrols, inspections, and fire suppression. Association patrolmen were commissioned as state fire wardens and empowered to regulate logging operations and access to forests. A compulsory fire patrol law in 1917 placed the Forest Fire Association in a firm partnership with the state, which continued until 1948, when the state ended its contract with the Association.

The new Washington Forest Protection Association took on legislative matters, public information, and the protection of private forests from pests.


Constantine Angelos, "Bert Cole Former Chief of Public Lands, Dies," The Seattle Times, March 10, 1993, p. B-1; Charles S. Cowan, The Enemy Is Fire: The History of Forest Protection in the Big Timber Country (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1961), 126-132.

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