Howard Ira Smith, 97, who retired in 1954 as chief of the Mining Branch in the Conservation Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, died Tuesday at his home in Springfield, Ohio, where he had lived for the last 20 years. He had a heart ailment.

Mr. Smith's retirement ended a career of more than 45 years in mining safety and the conservation of mineral resources.

He worked from 1910 to 1917 in the U.S. Bureau of Mines. During World War I, he was superintendent of safety for the Vandalia Coal Company in Sullivan, Ind. After the war, he served with the Hoover Commission, handling relief work in Yugoslavia.

Mr. Smith returned to the Bureau of Mines in 1920 and supervised operations under the Mineral Leasing Act at headquarters in Denver. He transferred to the agency's Washington office in 1924 as chief of the Mineral Leasing Division.

At the time of his retirement in 1954, he was awarded an Interior Department citation for distinguished service. He was honored for instigating the mineralogical examination of cuttings from oil wells in Utah and New Mexico which led to the discovery of sylvite, the richest of the natural potash minerals. He also was credited with developing the only deep-seated trona deposit in this country.

Mr. Smith was born in Finleyville, Pa. He was a graduate of Pennsylvania State College.

He was a member of numberous scientific organizations and of the Cosmos Club in Washington.

His wife, Elizabeth Belle, died in 1969.

Survivors include a daughter, Marie Gotwald, and a sone, Donald I., both of Springfield, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.