William Goodrich Jones, acclaimed as the "father of Texas forestry," was born in New York on November 11, 1860, the son of John Maxwell and Henrietta (Offenbach) Jones. His father was a merchant, watchmaker, and jeweler of Galveston, Texas, with interests both in the East and abroad, and his mother was the sister of French composer Jacques Offenbach. Because of the looming Civil War, John Jones left his family with friends and hastened back to Texas. His wife and three small children joined him later, completing the trip from New Orleans by ship despite the Union blockade. The family soon moved to Houston to escape the naval warfare and soon after the war returned to New York. In 1873 they went to Europe for two years, and young Goodrich studied in a German grammar school. In the summer his father took him on a walking tour of the Black Forest, where they talked with rangers and forestry workers. There the younger Jones gained a deep appreciation of the beauty and commercial advantages of a well-managed forest. The continuous planting, cultivating, and cutting rotation enabled the villagers to make their livings from the forest, generation after generation. The maxim that when one cuts a tree from the forest he must plant another in its place became one of the abiding principles of Jones's life. Upon return to the United States, he entered Princeton, where he graduated in 1883 with a degree in business. After serving an apprenticeship in banks in Galveston and South Texas, he became president of a new bank in Temple. There he soon established himself as a civic and business leader. Wherever he went he urged the townspeople to plant trees, and soon Temple looked like "a green oasis in a sea of black plowed land." To promote tree planting statewide, Jones advocated the adoption of an official Arbor Day. The state legislature so designated February 22, but later changed the day to the third Friday in January.
During his early years Jones made repeated trips through East Texas, observing the developing lumber industry, which followed the penetration of the piney woods by the railroads. In 1898 B. E. Fernow, chief of the United States Bureau of Forestry, made a trip to Texas and asked Jones to make a survey of the region and write a report on the condition and future of forestry in Texas. The resulting document became a blueprint for conservationists in Texas. Jones denounced the haste and waste of the large logging operators and predicted that under current methods the great forest would disappear within twenty-five years. He recommended that the state and federal governments cooperate to regulate a planned-cutting, sustained-yield, systematic reforestation program that would prolong the life of the Texas forest indefinitely.
When President Theodore Roosevelt and chief forester Gifford Pinchot called a White House Conference on Conservation, Jones attended as one of the Texas delegates. After this meeting Jones led in organizing a conservation agency for Texas. In 1914 he gathered key lumbermen, conservationists, and public officials together for a meeting in Temple to found the Texas Forestry Association; Jones served as its president until 1921. With assistance from the United States Forest Service, this group drafted legislation to establish a state department of forestry and lobbied for its enactment. Jones proved to be a very able lobbyist, and, after some compromises, the bill passed and the Texas Department of Forestry became a reality. Jones and the TFA participated in choosing the chief forester and in expanding the department, which, in 1926, became the Texas Forest Service. During the 1920s Jones led a drive to enact a severance tax on timber cut in Texas. Though this effort failed, the legislature provided more funds for the TFS, which developed a pine-seedling nursery and expanded fire-protection services. Later the state authorized a system of Texas state forests, one of which has been named the W. Goodrich Jones State Forest.
Jones was not a wilderness advocate but rather a supporter of conservation for prudent use of Texas forests. He also knew that his program of sustained-yield forestry and reforestation would be successful only if he could convince landowners that good forestry was also good business. He promoted the multiple-use concept of the forests in Texas and was interested in conserving the soil, grasses, and wildlife, as well as the trees. He also constantly urged the establishment of parks. To make every town a "green town" would, he believed, improve the lives of Texas citizens.
In 1890 Jones married Zollie Luther, daughter of the president of Baylor Female College (now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor). The couple had three children who lived to maturity; all three had the middle name Goodrich, and all shared their father's interest in conservation. After retiring from banking, Jones moved to Waco, where he managed his various properties and devoted his time to promoting the cause of conservation. He lived until he was almost ninety and was widely honored. He died on August 1, 1950, and was buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Temple.