History

History of the West Virginia Division of Forestry

The original forests of West Virginia covered 15,400,000 acres and were dense and rich with old timber. Explorers to our region spread the word of the plentiful trees that graced the land.  Settlers came but found they had too many trees for their needs. They cleared the land of what they could and used the hardwoods most beneficial to them. 

Lumber companies set up in the state, attracted to the large amounts of the white pine forests, which were in high demand at the time.  The first large mill established was the St. Lawrence Boom and Lumber Company in Ronceverte, Greenbrier County in the 1880’s.  By 1900, it’s estimated there were hundreds of large mills in West Virginia, harvesting red spruce, hemlock, and other valuable hardwoods. Timbering operations peaked around 1910 and by its relative decline in the mid 1920’s, forests were eventually timbered out. 

As a result, large amounts of slash were left behind from operations that weren’t managed well. This created fodder for wildfires that burned thousands acres.  Trees left behind died of exposure and soil erosion caused major floods.  

The need for regulation was evident. The Board of Fish Commissioners was created in 1877 and was later replaced by the 1897 Fish and Game Warden Office.  Forest management was integrated next and the Office of Forest, Game, and Fish Warden was established in 1909, as a declaration of the state government for the need of forest protection and research. 

A.B. Brooks, who later became West Virginia’s first forester, was asked by legislature in 1909 to lead an extensive study and prepare a report on the state forests and wood using industries.  In 1911, The West Virginia Geological Survey published his “Forestry and Wood Industries of West Virginia”.

In 1933, the Conservation Commission was created by the state legislature.  It created the position of state forester.  They partnered with the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps and developed wild land for recreation, fought wild fires, planted trees, and managed camps. 

The federal government’s Cooperative Forest Management Act of 1950 allowed for cooperation between the U.S. Forest Service and state forestry agencies to assist private landowners with nonindustrial forestland.  This has since grown into multiple programs such as urban forestry, forest management, forest safety, forest utilization, and forest protection.

The Conservation Commission was reorganized in 1961 as the Department of Natural Resources, with the Division of Forestry within it.  Forestry moved to the Department of Agriculture in 1985 and in 1990, it became an independent agency under the Department of Commerce.

Today, West Virginia is the country’s third most forested state.

 

Heads of West Virginia’s Division of Forestry, 1909-Present

 

Chief Forest Wardens

1909-1919            Jules A. Viquesney

1919-1919            C.W. Brandon

1920-1921            Clare W. Harding

 

Chief Forest Fire Warden

1921-1929            P.M. Browning

 

Chief Foresters

1929-1931            H.S. Newins

1931-1933            J.W.K Holliday

 

State Foresters

1933-1934            Hubbard W. Shawhan

1934-1941            Dan. B. Griffin

1941-1943            R.O. Bowen

1943-1945            D.B. (Pete) Bonebrake (Acting)

1945-1946            R.O. Bowen

1946-1950            Wilson B. Sayers

1950-1956            Hays E. Helmick

1956-1976            Lester McClung

1976-1980            Asher W. Kelly, Jr.

1980-1986            Byron J. Warder

*1986-1992         William H. Gillespie, Director

1986-1992            Ralph P. Glover, Jr., (Acting)

1993                       Edward Murriner (Acting)

1993-1998            William R. Maxey

1999-2017            Charles Dye

2017-present     Barry Cook

 

*During the period 7/1/85-6/30/92, both the position of State Forester and Director were in existence. In 1993, these positions were combined, i.e. Director/State Forester.

Learn more about the fascinating history of the West Virginia Division of Forestry.

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Mission

The West Virginia Division of Forestry is committed to protecting, nurturing, sustaining, and promoting the wise utilization of our state’s forest resources.

About

Established in 1909, as a declaration of the state government for the need of forest protection and research, the West Virginia Division of Forestry protects and conserves the state’s forest resources.

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