Royce Cox (Forester)

70+ years a Forester  

Forestry jobs were scarce in 1940, but 24-year-old Royce Cox had a better reason than most to find employment. Without a job, the recent Iowa State forestry graduate would not have the blessing of his future father-in-law to marry Lu Ellen, the pretty red-headed coed Royce had fallen for two years earlier. Royce’s 82 letters seeking employment produced only two replies, neither offering a real forestry job. So, Royce kissed his sweetheart a reluctant goodbye, loaded a 1928 Model “A” with camping gear and headed West, stopping at any likely job prospect along the way.

Several contacts urged him to check with Potlatch Forests, Inc. (PFI) at Lewiston, Idaho. Royce had already come to love North Idaho during a U.S. Forest Service summer job at Priest Lake in 1938.He was also attracted by Potlatch’s reputation, which included instituting one of the nation’s first “formal” sustained yield forestry programs. Unfortunately, the only job Potlatch could offer Royce was as a laborer, digging a water line at “Headquarters,” a remote logging camp. Royce now jokes that he not only got in at ground level, he actually started a few feet below the ground.

But first he checked out a Weyerhaeuser Co. prospect at Longview, Washington. There he was advised by David Weyerhaeuser, younger son of the company founder, to take the Potlatch job. That turned out to be good advice, Royce says now, because it led to a 40-year forestry career with Potlatch.
Most important, it helped facilitate his 1940 marriage to his cherished Lu Ellen. Their 68-year union produced three children, including a redheaded son who became a well-known forest economist, now also retired.

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Clockwise from the top: Royce Cox in the field in 2009 and in 1950 at Meadow Creek. At right: Recent graduate Royce Cox. Above: Royce and his new bride, Lu Ellen, in 1940. Her father’s demand that he be employed before granting his blessing led to Royce’s 40-year career with Potlatch Corp.

Born in 1915, Royce has chronicled his life and career in a well-illustrated manuscript entitled The Tree and Me, which he hopes to publish soon. Beginning with his boyhood ambition to be a forest ranger, the book follows his challenging early years at Potlatch, formation of cooperative fire protection and development of early state and federal forestry laws and regulations. The text is sprinkled with colorful vignettes of personalities and events, interweaving the history of forestry development in Idaho and the nation. In the turbulent 1960s and 70s, Royce served as Potlatch’s Environmental Forester and, independently, headed the Western Forestry & Conservation Association. He had a front row seat during formulation of landmark state and federal laws covering forestry and the environment. “I should have had a degree in law as well as forestry,” he quips.