Ecology's first 50 years - a celebration

Ecology 50 years We’ll be sharing stories from our first 50 years of protecting Washington’s land, air, and water. Follow along as we celebrate the first agency in the country dedicated to environmental protection and improvement.

Our agency was born in February 1970 to carry out and coordinate the state’s pollution control and water management programs. Governor Daniel J. Evans called a special Legislative session that year, concentrating on environmental protection. The desire to create a single environmental department emerged as the top priority. Ultimately, the state approved the creation of a new department, officially designated as the Department of Ecology, which became the first such agency in the country. 

See what we've been doing


By the late 1960s, the American public — and especially in Washington state — was becoming more concerned about pollution and environmental degredation. Legislation such as the Washington Clean Air Act was passed to respond to unhealthy industrial pollution that had no emission controls in place.

On Feb. 12, 1970, the Washington State Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 1. This Bill authorized the consolidation of four existing state agencies to create the Department of Ecology. Gov. Daniel J. Evans signed the bill on Feb. 23, creating the first unified environmental protection agency in the nation, ahead of even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  

“Here in Washington state the environmental movement was strong and deep but splintered into scores of competing organizations. ... I decided to call a special session in 1970, concentrating on environmental protection" - Gov. Dan Evans

The new agency officially began operations on July 1, 1970, under Director John Biggs (d. 1990) with 175 employees. Under Biggs' leadership, Ecology got to work, while Washington's legislators passed a series of important environmental bills such as the:

  • Model Litter Control Act
  • Shoreline Management Act
  • State Environmental Policy Act

By Dec. 2, 1970, the federal government formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many states looked to Ecology as a model for developing their own environmental protection departments.

Where we are now

We’re now entering our 50th year of protecting, preserving, and enhancing Washington's environment for current and future generations. Today's changing climate presents us with new environmental challenges we are working to solve.

Our 2019 — 2021 Strategic Plan outlines the challenges we're facing, and the steps we're taking to overcome those challenges: 

Today, Ecology has staff working across Washington, conducting scientific research, overseeing complex toxic cleanups, responding to spills and contamination, inspecting chemical storage and disposal at businesses, and partnering with local governments, tribes, and organizations to promote environmental restoration. 

We aim to balance the resource demands of the state's growing population and best-in-the-nation economy, preventing and cleaning up pollution, and planning for future generations.

We remain committed to serving as Washington's evironmental protection agency.