Effort continues to save Green Mountain fire lookout

DARRINGTON — While federal lawyers ponder their next move in the saga of the Green Mountain Forest Fire Lookout, people who care about the landmark in the Glacier Peak Wilderness are continuing efforts to preserve it, talking with lawmakers about preventing it from being torn down.

The Justice Department has until May 27 to appeal U.S. District Judge John Coughenour’s ruling in favor of a Montana-based conservation group, which sued to have the lookout removed. If the Justice Department decides to let the ruling stand, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., might get involved.

“I have heard from a lot of folks who are concerned about the Green Mountain Forest Fire Lookout,” Larsen said. “I am working with the community to find a solution that keeps the lookout in Glacier Peak. The Department of Justice still has time to appeal the court’s decision. If they do not, I may work with the community to pursue a legislative solution.”

Last month, the Snohomish County Council passed a resolution encouraging Congress to amend the federal Wilderness Act to allow historic and culturally significant places, such as the lookout on Green Mountain, to continue to be maintained and operated.

“These are culturally significant buildings, so it’s important to preserve them,” Councilman Dave Somers said.

The County Council wrote the resolution on its own, but Somers said he talked to Larsen’s office before introducing it.

Larsen said the resolution could help efforts to keep the lookout in place.

Darrington Historical Society volunteer Scott Morris said he, too, has been in touch with Larsen’s staff, as well as the offices of U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash.

“I think there would be bipartisan support for this,” Morris said. “But I wonder if anything can get done in an election year.”

The Forest Service is unlikely to appeal the judge’s decision, said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, which filed the lawsuit.

“There have been numerous court cases similar to this one and every time the court has ruled similarly to what Judge Coughenour did, and the Forest Service is aware of that,” Nickas said.

And he said he hopes that Congress does not intervene in the ruling.

“If this happens every time somebody doesn’t like something, we won’t have wilderness protection with any integrity,” Nickas said. “There are many interest groups who think their activity should be exempted, and the groups with concerns about history share exactly the same attitude. We need to hold the Wilderness Act to a rigorous standard.”

The Wilderness Watch lawsuit filed in 2010 alleged that the Forest Service violated the Wilderness Act, which doesn’t allow for the use of motorized vehicles or new construction in wilderness areas. Helicopters were used to haul out the old lookout and haul in what Wilderness Watch calls a new building.

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. The lookout is on national and state registers of historic places.

“If no work had ever been done on the lookout, it would still be there,” Morris said. “The lookout is a draw, but Green Mountain is one of the few easy access trails into the wilderness.”

David Brown, chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the Green Mountain lookout issue has garnered national attention.

“The lookout has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for more than 20 years,” Brown said. “It is a great point of pride to many in the local community, whose parents and grandparents helped build it to protect the forest from fire damage.”

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.

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

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