Environmental group sues over Green Mountain wilderness lookout

DARRINGTON — A Montana-based watchdog group is suing the U.S. Forest Service and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Supervisor Rob Iwamoto.

Wilderness Watch alleges that, under Iwamoto’s direction, the Forest Service violated the federal Wilderness Act and National Environmental Pol

icy Act when it built a new lookout atop Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area east of Darrington.

The lawsuit has angered regional hiking groups whose members have helped maintain mountain lookouts throughout northwest Washington.

The new $50,000 lookout, which incorporated much of the original lookout’s materials, has been a destination for hikers for decades and is used for wilderness management. It replaced an old fire lookout built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Wilderness Watch executive director George Nickas contends that the federal law doesn’t provide for construction in the wilderness except for use in managing the area. The use of a helicopter and power tools in construction also violated the act, Nickas said.

In addition, the suit says that environmental policy was violated because the Forest Service did not prepare an analysis of the effects of constructing a new lookout.

Wilderness Watch wants the Forest Service to take down the new lookout at Green Mountain and pay the watchdog group attorney fees and its costs.

Back-country hiker and Everett Mountaineers Club member Arthur Wright believes the lawsuit is “a travesty.”

“The suit is a way for Wilderness Watch to raise money. I have helped forest crews work on trails and maintain lookouts. I would trust the forest professionals who live and work here much more than I ever would somebody in an office in Missoula,” said Wright of Lynnwood. “The new building looks substantially like the old one. There is history there at Green Mountain.”

Longtime Glacier Peak Wilderness volunteers Mike and Ruth Hardy of south King County believe the suit threatens the work of those trying to preserve the history of the old fire lookouts. Scott Morris, a member of the Darrington Historical Society, agrees, noting that lookouts are among the historical icons of the region.

“I am an advocate of the wilderness and know it perhaps better than most. I could sympathize with Wilderness Watch if every mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness were somehow threatened,” Morris said. “The purist zealotry of this group is going to harm appreciation of the wilderness. Shall we not walk in the wilderness anymore?”

“If this is the biggest threat to the Glacier Peak Wilderness, we’re doing OK,” Morris said.

Forest Service personnel say they are not allowed to talk about the lawsuit.

Darrington Ranger District wilderness and trails coordinator Gary Paull said the Green Mountain Lookout is used by paid staff and volunteers to manage the wilderness and make sure that no one is committing violations of the wilderness act. While the lookout has not been used for fire detection since the late 1980s, volunteers often are able to report lightning strikes from the lookout and help cut down on aerial fire detection above Glacier, Paull said.

Green Mountain has been a radio-relay position for restoration crews working to repair trails in the national forest. It also has played a recreation function, as a place for hikers to stop.

The lookout is on the west side of the 573,00-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness.

The old lookout was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and, as it began to fall apart and come off its foundation, restoration efforts followed. Record snowfall in 2002 and major flooding in 2003 slowed down restoration efforts. In 2009, with the help of a state recreation grant, the Forest Service rebuilt the lookout.

When the Forest Service got complaints about helicopters flying in supplies to the mountain top, pack horses were used. But because many of the trails leading to the lookout were not restored to handle horses, two of the animals were injured and had to be shot.

“The helicopters impacted the wilderness less than the horses,” said Wright, the Lynnwood hiker.

At his Missoula office, Nickas said the lawsuit is simply a matter of protecting the integrity of the wilderness system.

“It’s supposed to be free of structures, free of motor vehicle use. The (lookout) is either legal or it’s not. For people to say it’s OK is the same as saying the wilderness should be open to off-road vehicles,” Nickas said. “Everybody wants it their way. The hikers don’t want the loggers or the miners or the off-road vehicle folks. You can’t expect your pet use to be OK, when the Wilderness Act is designed for us to step back and let it truly be a wild place. Without it, future generations won’t know what wilderness is.”

The Wilderness Watch is being represented in federal court in Seattle by attorney Peter Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center of Eugene, Ore. Brian Kipnis in Seattle is the federal Department of Justice lawyer on the case.

On the Web

More information about the Green Mountain Lookout is at www.fs.usda.gov.

Wilderness Watch: www.wildernesswatch.org.

The NWHikers.net discussion forum is at www.nwhikers.net/forums.

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

More in Local News

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

New leaders coming to county, state political parties

Hillary Moralez of Bothell takes over as chair for the Snohomish County Democratic Party.

Young woman missing from Mukilteo found safe

She called her parents and told them she was at a museum in Seattle.

Camano Island man gets 18 years for role in drug ring

He was convicted of helping lead a drug distribution network in four Washington counties.

Lake Stevens man missing since beginning of January

Jason Michael Knox White hasn’t used his credit card or withdrawn money from his bank since then.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders apprentice Janette Alhanati (left) and journeyman Kurt Warwick construct wall panels for an upcoming boat project with Linblad Expedition Holdings. A federal grant from the Northwest Workforce Council will allow Nichols Brothers to add more apprentices to its workforce starting in January 2018.
Whidbey Island boatbuilder gets hiring boost

The grant from the Northwest Workforce Council will help expand the company’s apprenticeship program.

Most Read