William B. Greeley (1879-1955)
3rd Chief of the Forest Service, 1920-1928
William Buckhout Greeley was born in Oswego, New York, on September 6, 1879. He
graduated from the University of California in 1901 and from the Yale Forest School
three years later. Forestry school dean Henry S. Graves wrote: "Greeley had the highest
mark of any recent graduates. He is a special star and I recommend him for almost
any work which may come along." After starting with the Bureau of Forestry in 1904,
he quickly was promoted through a variety of Forest Service positions to the Washington
Office as assistant chief in charge of silviculture. During the Great War, after
Chief Graves returned from France in 1918, Greeley took his place overseas with
the 20th Engineers (Forestry) ending the war as a lieutenant colonel (after the
war he preferred to be addressed by his military title "Colonel Greeley"). He was
appointed chief after Graves resigned.
Greeley with E.E. Carter and Austin Cary, 1904.
Greeley was able to put into actual practice the national forest policy that
was inaugurated by Henry Graves. After Greeley was appointed chief, he faced a number
of challenges, including the acquisition of new national forests east of the Mississippi
River; making cooperation with private, state, and other federal agencies a standard
feature of Forest Service management; fighting renewed efforts to place the Forest
Service back into the Department of the Interior; and "blocking up" the national
forests (exchange or purchase of lands inside or near the forest boundaries to simplify
management). During his administration the Clarke-McNary Act of 1924 became law
which extended federal authority to purchase forest lands and to enter into agreements
with various states to help protect state and private forests from wildfire. This
was also the time, during the "roaring twenties," when prosperity brought about
tremendous growth in recreation on the national forests - which led to the need
to develop and improve roads for automobile use, campgrounds for forest visitors,
and summer home sites for semi-permanent users.
Greeley with secretary Edna Frost Crocker, 1924.
William B. Greeley wrote:
"The national forests are no longer primeval solitudes remote from the economic
life of developing regions, or barely touched by the skirmish line of settlement.
To a very large degree the wilderness has been pressed back. Farms have multiplied,
roads have been built, frontier hamlets have grown into villages and towns, industries
have found foothold and expanded. Although the forests are still in an early stage
of economic development, their resources are important factors in present prosperity.
There is probably no large area of forest land in the world on which the use
and conservation of multiple resources have been so thoroughly studied or so completely
developed in practice as on the national forests of the United States....Nothing
better illustrates the democracy of the American forest policy or the decentralization
in administering national forests than the conscientious effort of the Forest Service
to weight the importance of different uses on each unit and to give every use its
merited place in a bewildering regimen of administrative detail."
Here is Col. W. B. Greeley, the Government's Chief Forester - USDA Press Release, 1920. [pdf]
"A Forester At War," excerpts from Greeley's wartime diaries published in Forest History, Winter 1961. [pdf]
"April 15, 1920: Greeley Named Forest Service Chief," from Peeling Back the Bark.