U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell earlier this week sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to "use all legal means" to protect the forest fire lookout in Glacier Peak Wilderness of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
In March, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled in favor of the Montana-based Wilderness Watch, which sued the U.S. Forest Service, claiming the federal Wilderness Act was violated when a helicopter was used to repair the lookout. Coughenour ordered the lookout be removed from the wilderness.
The federal Department of Justice, in its defense the Forest Service, filed a brief in early May asking the judge to amend his order to give the Forest Service discretion over the lookout. The government attorneys argued that the lookout can remain without violating the National Environmental Policy Act. This week, Wilderness Watch responded by saying that the government's motion has no merit.
The Justice Department is expected to file an appeal of the judge's ruling, said Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes.
Larsen, Murray and Cantwell, in their letter to the Agriculture secretary, said the historic lookout should be protected.
"Many of our constituents have told us how important the lookout is to the community," the letter reads. "The lookout is an important part of the region, and reflects a unique and vanishing part of the Pacific Northwest's heritage. It is one of few surviving fire lookouts in the West, and only one of six such lookouts within a wilderness area. It was also an early warning station during World War II to alert citizens to possible aerial invasion. The Washington State Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of the 10 most-endangered buildings last year."
George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, said people with concerns about history believe their activities should be exempt from laws protecting the wilderness. He maintains that the Wilderness Act needs to be held to a rigorous standard.
The Forest Service has maintained that the lookout was restored, not reconstructed, and that the historical significance of the forest fire lookout made it an allowable project, including the use of the helicopter. The lookout is on national and state registers of historic places.
The Snohomish County Council, the Darrington Town Council, the Darrington Historical Society and many recreational user groups have voiced support for saving the lookout.
The forest fire lookout was built in the summer of 1933, when a Civilian Conservation Corps crew climbed 6,500-foot Green Mountain in the North Cascade Range east of Darrington.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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