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DNRC Headquarters
1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
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Earl Cooley

Earl CooleyForestry Pioneer

Earl started Forestry School at the University of Montana in 1937, and worked for the Forest Service during summers as a fire guard. In 1940 an Experimental Smokejumping Project was started in Region 1 and Region 6. Earl and Rufus Robinson made the first fire jumps on Martin Creek on the Nez Perce Forest.

Earl graduated from U of M Forestry School in 1941. in 1942, he was given an occupational deferment to continue fighting forest fires. By the spring of 1943 there was a man power shortage to fight forest fires so volunteers were solicited from the Civilian Public Service Program. Earl trained conscientious objectors to become squad leaders and riggers for all the regions. One of the greatest tragedies of his life was on August 5, 1949. Earl was the spotter on the Mann Gulch fire.

In fall and winter of 1944 he served briefly on the Kootenai Forest in Libby, MT and then worked out of Missoula until 1950 when he became the District Ranger of the Red River District on the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho. In 1955 he became the ranger of the Noxon Ranger District that included the Cabinet Wilderness. In 1958 Earl returned to Missoula as the Smokejumper Base Superintendent. In 1971 he wasn't quite ready to retire from the forest service so he became a Regional Equipment Specialist. He was quite proud of some of his inventions including a portable toilet and a tanker capable of applying 1000 gallons of retardant rather than the previous 300 gallon capacity. He retired from the Forest Service in 1975.

After the forest service Earl started his own business, Cooley Realty and sold real estate into the 1990's. In 1984 he completed his memoirs in a book entitled, "Trimotor and Trail". He also served as the first President of the National Smokejumper Association from 1993-1995.

Earl spent his last years at home under the care of his daughters and wife Irene and Hospice. He passed away November 9, 2009 at 98 years of age.

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