The University of Montana acknowledges that we are in the aboriginal territories of the Salish and Kalispel people. We honor the path they have always shown us in caring for this place for the generations to come.

The W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation first started as a Ranger School in 1908 at the University of Montana to train Forest Service rangers. For the first two years, the school helped ready new Forest Service employees for their work as foresters on the newly created national forest system. By 1913, the University had decided to expand educational offerings beyond the job-related courses of the ranger school, and on March 21, 1913, the State Legislature of Montana authorized the creation of the School of Forestry. The school formally opened on September 8, 1914, with 25 students. In 1916, the forestry school had three departments: forestry, forestry engineering, and the ranger course. The ranger course was closed in 1927.
College of Forestry and Conservation centennial logo


In March, 1913, the Legislature allocated $6,000 for supplies so the school could construct its own building. By 1922, students had outgrown this two-story building behind Main Hall, dubbed The Shack. Architect Ole Bakke of Missoula designed a new three-story building with money raised by a state bond. This new structure, opened in 1922, was named the Gifford Pinchot Hall of Forestry in 1923 for the first Chief of the USDA Forest Service. Currently, the school's administrative offices, several classrooms and some faculty offices are still housed in this 1922 building. In 1914, forestry students built a fire lookout on Mt. Sentinel, which was staffed by students in summers before it burned down in 1929.

Student Life

In 1914, the School of Forestry held its first spring camp on the shores of Salmon Lake. By 1920, camp had moved to Flathead Lake where students spent ten days visiting the Somers Lumber Company mill, touring the Great Northern Railway tie-treating plant, and much more. In the 1930s, students went on spring field trips. These started as two- to three-day jaunts across the Pacific Northwest to visit national forests and lumber operations, but expanded into much longer trips. In 1937, the forestry school received a donation of 19,058 acres of land from the Anaconda Company and an additional 1,212 acres the following year from the Northern Pacific Railroad. This Lubrecht Experimental Forest, named for the Anaconda Company manager who helped facilitate the donation, became the school's new home for camp and other student activities. In 1971, a 640-acre section was given to students to manage. Throughout the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, range management students went on extended field trips throughout the desert southwest, led by Professor Melvin S. Morris.

During WWI, the School of Forestry had more men serving in the armed forces than any other similarly sized forestry school: 78 students were enlisted and seven died in battle or from influenza. These seven students are memorialized in UM's Memorial Row. During the 1920s and 1930s, forestry students provided the bulk of the summer workforce for the Forest Service. By the start of WWII, most of these trained men enlisted in the military; 14 forestry students died in the war. A bronze bell in the Main Hall Memorial Carillon is dedicated to those students. In 1949, three forestry students died in the Mann Gulch fire on the Helena National Forest. The Memorial Greenhouse, constructed in 1951 and still in operation today, is dedicated to those men.

The Forestry Club was established in 1914 and has been active since with activities like the Foresters' Ball, the fall smoker, and management of the student-owned section 13 at Lubrecht Experimental Forest. The club also publishes the Forestry Kaimin, a newsletter published annually from 1915 through 1967 (except during WWI and WWII), and intermittently since then. Other clubs have formed in the past 100 years and Franke College of Forestry and Conservation students can now also choose to join the American Fisheries Society; the Student Association of Fire Ecology & Management; the Montana Recreation and Parks Association; the Graduate Student Association; the Society of American Foresters student chapter; the Student Recreation Association; the Society for Ecological Restoration student chapter; The Wildlife Society student chapter; the Woodsman Team; and other student organizations.

Josephine Darlington was the first woman to graduate from the school in 1928. The second female graduate, Jean Hamre, graduated in 1947, followed by Colleen McCarthy in 1948. About half of our current students are women.

Academic Programs

In 1946, the school added a master's degree in forestry and in 1964 the State Board of Education approved the PhD program. In 1996, the PhD in Wildlife Biology was added. In 2003, the School of Forestry was renamed the College of Forestry and Conservation. The Department of Geography joined the college in 2019. We currently offer six undergraduate majors, five minors, three certificates and nine graduate degrees spread across four departments.


On November 18, 2016, the Montana University System Board of Regents approved the re-naming of the college to the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation in honor of Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family’s transformative $24 million gift to the University of Montana. This is the largest single donation the University has ever received. The Frankes’ gift is focused on students and programs that emphasize environmental research and hands-on learning experiences. Eighteen million dollars of the gift will fuel education and research in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, providing competitive fellowship awards to faculty and graduate students, funding for undergraduates to learn about conservation through study abroad and service learning projects, and scholarships for both graduate and undergraduate students. It will also fund two faculty positions in forest conservation and watershed hydrology and support student internships.