Bill would save lookout in Glacier Peak Wilderness

DARRINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., plans to introduce legislation Wednesday aimed at halting the removal of the historic Green Mountain fire lookout in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

“The lookout is an integral part of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, important for both recreation and the region’s history,” Larsen said Tuesday by phone from Washington, D.C. “The message of this bill is simple: The Green Mountain lookout stays on Green Mountain.”

Earlier this year the U.S. District Court in Seattle ordered the lookout removed after Montana-based Wilderness Watch successfully sued the Forest Service for using a helicopter to repair it, a violation of the federal Wilderness Act. The Forest Service maintained that the lookout’s historical significance made it an allowable project in the wilderness. The lawsuit is still in the courts, pending an appeal by the Department of Justice.

Larsen’s proposed Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act would amend the Washington State Wilderness Act of 1984, allowing for the operation and maintenance of the lookout and preventing the Forest Service from tearing it down and carting it away.

“I believe strongly in preserving our environment, and I have been a leader in the fight to protect wilderness in the Wild Sky (Wilderness), the Skagit River Valley and in the San Juan Islands,” Larsen said. “It’s as important to me to save the lookout as it was to save the Wild Sky. Folks who live in Montana may not understand our efforts here to preserve federal land.”

George Nickas, director of Wilderness Watch, said Larsen’s bill has the potential to set a bad precedent, an effort that deserves national attention.

“The Wilderness Act was established for the permanent good of the whole people,” Nickas said. “When members of Congress pick away at it, the idea that these lands are set aside for future generations begins to ring hollow.”

Larsen said the position taken by Wilderness Watch fails to take into account the spirit of the law.

Chris Moore, field director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, agrees.

“As an organization, we believe the lookout enhances the Glacier Peak Wilderness,” Moore said.

The Green Mountain lookout is one of the few surviving fire lookouts in the West, Larsen said. The 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. Along with its use as a key fire lookout in the logging heyday, Green Mountain also was an early warning station for aerial attacks during World War II. The lookout is on national and state registers of historic places.

Elected officials including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the Snohomish County Council and the Darrington Town Council and organizations such as the Darrington Historical Society, many recreational groups, the Forest Fire Lookout Association and state and national Trusts for Historic Preservation support the maintenance of the lookout, Larsen said.

“Wilderness Watch’s lawsuit wasted a lot of people’s time and money,” said Scott Morris, historical society vice president, “and it’s time for Congress to step in and allow us to move on to more important things. The lookout won’t last forever. Just let it be.”

The fire lookout on Green Mountain is one of only 15 left from North Bend to the Canadian border, Morris said. That’s 15 of 90 that were built in the 1930s, he said.

“I am not speaking for the historical society or people in Darrington when I say this, but I love the Wilderness Act,” Morris said. “The lawsuit brought by Wilderness Watch is the kind of thing that (ticks) people off over a non-issue. Nickas was the one who started this whole thing, and he is the one who has set the bad precedent.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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