Evan William Kelley was one of the most colorful pioneers of the U.S. Forest Service. He joined the service in the second year of its existence and spent the next 38 years becoming a FS legend and holding positions in three regions and the Washington office. At the time of his retirement, the chief of the FS had this to say:
“Few men, perhaps none, in the Forest Service have contributed more than you to sound organization philosophy. Fewer still have exhibited, over the years, an ability to get things done with efficiency and dispatch ... I have most admired the absolute and fearless personal and professional honesty which has characterized your career ... “
Evan Kelley was born in the gold mining town of Sierra City, CA, on October 19, 1882. In 1896, at age 14, he began working in the gold mines of northern California.
Apparently, after deciding gold mining was not for him, he got a job with the newly formed U.S. Forest Service on May 1, 1906. He was appointed a Forest Guard on the Yuba Forest Reserve (later a part of the Tahoe National Forest). Starting pay was $60 a month.
During 1906, Mr. Kelley took the Ranger examination and passed. He rose quickly and in 1910 became Supervisor of the Eldorado National Forest with headquarters in Placerville, CA. As time passed, his ability at organization attracted the attention of the regional office and in 1915, he moved to San Francisco as National Forest Examiner in charge of general forest improvement activities in the California Region.
In 1917, during WWI he was a Captain in the 10th Engineers (forestry regiment). In 1918, as a Major, he was in command of all operations of the 20th Engineers in eastern France and continued until the end of the war.
In 1919, Major Kelley resumed his forest service career. Early in 1920, he transferred to the Washington office as a Fire Control Inspector. In 1925, he became Regional Forester of the Eastern Region, which included the White Mountain National Forest, (Region 7 at that time) with headquarters in Washington. He was impressed by the timber producing possibilities of the eastern forests and worked effectively to improve the region’s fire control systems. He held the post of Eastern Region Forester until 1929 when he transferred to Missoula, MT, as Regional Forester of the Northern Region. He gained wide recognition for his work in reorganizing and developing wildfire control methods. Other achievements include the construction of fire lookouts and motor truck trails, which greatly simplified detection of fires and faster initial response. He helped develop the use of portable two-way radios as well as smokejumping (parachuting) on wildfires.
In 1942 Major Kelley was detailed to head the Guayule Emergency Rubber Project in California. He had 10,000 men planting guayule rubber plants in the Salinas Valley to supply rubber for the war effort. Nearly three million pounds of rubber were produced. In July 1943, he returned to his position in Missoula, MT and retired on October 31, 1944.
Major Kelley also reorganized and centralized USFS pack animals from all northern region forests at the Nine Mile Remount Depot near Missoula. The animals were dispatched like reserve combat elements to battle fires in the region. Today the Remount Depot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as the USFS Wilderness Training Center for the North West, as well as a packing center.
Major Evan Kelley died in Santa Barbara, California, on October 3, 1966.
Evan W. Kelley Obituary.
Huey, Ben M.1950 “We Present - Evan W. Kelley”. Journal of Forestry. July 1950, pp. 499-500.
USDA, USFS 1944 USDA, USFS, Northern Region Press Release, “Major Kelley, Forest Service Pioneer, Retires after 38 Years”. September 27, 1944, R-1, #937.
References were provided by The Forest History Society, Durham, NC, http:www.foresthistory.org.