The College of Forestry and Conservation serves not only as an enduring icon of the University of Montana, but of all Missoula.
The college has its roots at UM in 1908 as a school to train rangers for the newly christened U.S. Forest Service. The School of Forestry didn’t open until 1914; the ranger courses ended in 1927.
The current three-story building on campus opened in 1922 and was named after Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service. Originally, the school was housed in a two-story building behind Main Hall that was referred to as “The Shack.”
Because female foresters were very uncommon at the time, the original design of the new forestry building only included men’s restrooms, an issue later rectified. The school graduated its first woman, Josephine Darlington, in 1928 and now boasts an enrollment that’s 40 percent female.
The school’s Forestry Club, founded in 1914, is best known for the annual Foresters Ball. According to a history of the school written by Missoula historian Minie Smith, the Foresters Ball was first held in 1915, patterned after similar events put on by the ranger school. Money from the ball provides a scholarship fund for forestry students.
After almost being canceled following the 2012 ball, the event continued with a more family friendly, educational focus. So too has the forestry school changed, adding “conservation” to its mission and moniker.
The Forestry Club’s unofficial mascot is the mounted head of Bertha the Moose. Starting in the 1930s, other UM departments, most notably the law school, began stealing Bertha in the weeks leading up to Foresters Ball, a tradition that endures.