SFR to SEFS

The School Changes Its Name

On January 1, 2012, the School of Forest Resources, a founding unit in the UW’s College of the Environment, became the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.  A new name has been under consideration for more than 15 years, as the School's core programs continued to shift from traditional forest science and management to include a broader, more integrative approach to sustaining natural resources for future generations.  This has been a path followed by all forestry schools in the country, a response to new challenges in natural resources management throughout the world and the need to educate professionals in both public agencies and private industry to meet these challenges.

The change was part of a strategic planning process, begun in 1996, that has been instrumental in transforming the School’s curricula and graduate programs and hiring 15 new faculty members within the last five years. Formal consideration of a name change began in 2006, when the highest priority goal at  the annual strategic planning retreat was "a new name that accurately reflects all we do." The new name was developed in 2010 through a faculty, staff, and student exercise, facilitated by an ad hoc committee, from which a short list of names emerged. In April 2010, the faculty selected from this list and voted for School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

The importance of forestry education at the UW was underscored by Henry Schmitz in his account of forestry at the UW, The Long Road Traveled:  “The idea of a territorial University of Washington was conceived in a forest.  The University was built in a forest from monies derived from the sale of forest land.  For many years it served the educational needs of a people quite largely dependent on the forest for a livelihood.  It seems both logical and inevitable that the University would eventually come to consider the forest as a legitimate object of study …” 

Instruction in forestry at the UW began in 1894 as a course in general forestry offered in the Department of Natural Sciences. In the first of many structural changes, common as academic disciplines shape themselves over time, the Department of Natural Sciences became the Department of Biology and Physiology, which continued to offer a forestry course.  At the same time a new Department of Terrestrial Physics and Geography began offering a course in general forestry taught by Edmond S. Meany, a professor of history who later became UW President.  When this "duplication" was brought to the University's attention, the course in Biology was discontinued, only to reappear after the demise of the Department of Terrestrial Physics.  In 1901 forestry became a department in the College of Liberal Arts, with Meany as department head.  In 1907, after Meany's vigorous promotion of the need for an in-depth forestry curriculum, the School of Forestry was established. The School opened with eight freshman and two graduate students; a formal graduate program began when a Master of Science in Forestry degree was approved in 1908, followed by a PhD in forestry in 1933.  In 1910, following a change in UW administrative nomenclature, the School of Forestry became the College of Forestry.

In 1910, the forests of the Northwest seemed limitless, and long term management of resources was only beginning to be recognized by institutions of higher education.  The Northwest had become the center of the lumber producing industry, and Washington led the nation in lumber production by 1910.  Forestry education at the UW was a response to the growing recognition of the need to conserve forests for future generations. During the early years of the College, the purposes of the University and the needs of the region were met by grouping professional interests in forest management, forest (logging) engineering, and forest products.  This grouping lasted until the 1960s, and addressed the management of land and related resources, the operations of producing products from the forest, and the conversion of timber into a growing variety of products. When the College added pulp and paper and wood science programs to its curricula in the late 1960s, its name was changed to College of Forest Resources.

The College continued to reshape its programs to provide professional leadership, knowledge, and practical expertise to the region, as well as responding to challenges in international trade in forest products and forest conservation.  Forests remained as important to the state as they were when the College was founded. Population growth coupled with an increasing concern with environmental protection, made national parks, wilderness, and natural areas and preserves an increasingly important part of forest management in the Pacific Northwest.  Forest lands, providing a multitude of products and services in addition to wood— water, fisheries, wildlife, and recreation opportunities, as well as amenity and scientific value—became highly valued by society as a whole. Public agencies and private industry needed the expertise of scientists and professionals to manage these resources sustainably. 

During this time forestry schools and colleges across the U.S. also experienced this changing and broadening definition of forestry and responded with new programs and consolidated organizations. Many changed their names to reflect the broader scope of disciplinary inquiry. Tom Hinckley, SEFS alumnus, Professor, and Interim Director reminisces, “From 1966 to 1971, I was a forestry graduate student at the UW and from 1980 to the present, I have been a member of the forestry faculty.  Over that period of time, I've lived through four name changes: College of Forestry to College of Forest Resources to School of Forest Resources to School of Environmental and Forest Sciences."

He adds, "The last change is the only one in which the entire School community participated and voted on the change. The change was not made lightly, and we chose a name that honors our long legacy of innovation and leadership and looks ahead toward continued stewardship of natural resources and the environment.  It does not repudiate the past, but builds on our historical and current strengths and best enables us to move into the future." 

Edmond Meany, the "Father of Forestry" at the University of Washington. Photo: MSCUA, University of Washington Libraries..

New directions in forestry. Professors Richard Gustafson and Renata Bura talk in the biofuels and bioresources laboratory about using a high-pressure liquid chromatographer to measure sugars extracted from biomass and to analyze the characteristics of fuels and chemicals made from those sugars. Photo: UW News