By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
DARRINGTON — The story of the Green Mountain forest fire lookout has garnered the ire of people on both sides of a complicated conservation issue. And both sides have until July 8 to comment on the latest proposal for the lookout’s future.
History buffs, Civilian Conservation Corps veterans, Darrington tourism advocates, volunteers with the Darrington District of the National Forest, regional hiking groups and the Wilderness Society support leaving the lookout where it is.
Others, including Forest Service critic Bill Lider of Lynnwood and the Montana-based environmental watchdog group Wilderness Watch favor removal of the lookout, which is located in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
The July 8 deadline is for comments about the current Forest Service proposal, which, at a cost of about $100,000, would use a helicopter to haul away the lookout and put it down eight miles away at the top of Circle Peak.
The proposal comes three years after Wilderness Watch filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for using a helicopter to rebuild the Green Mountain lookout, in violation of the federal Wilderness Act. The group also claimed the restored lookout was actually a new structure, another violation of federal law.
The U.S. District Court in Seattle sided with Wilderness Watch and last year ordered the Forest Service to remove the lookout from the 6,500-foot mountain located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
When the agency’s proposal to move the lookout first came out in the spring, Kevin Proescholdt, conservation director of Wilderness Watch, agreed that, even though it would be a motorized intrusion in the wilderness, using a helicopter to get the lookout off Green Mountain might be the Forest Service’s best solution. Other proposals include burning down the lookout or taking it down by hand and packing it out.
Green Mountain’s lookout was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Along with its use as a key fire lookout, Green Mountain also was an early warning station for aerial attacks during World War II. The lookout is on national and state registeries of historic places.
Lider, intent on removing the lookout from the wilderness, even petitioned to have the structure taken off the historic places registries.
“Our congressional delegation was using the historical aspect as an argument to keep the structure on Green Mountain,” Lider said. “But if you look at the building, it’s obvious that most of it is new material and new construction.”
Scott Morris of the Darrington Historical Society maintains that the lookout was simply restored and that he still hopes that federal legislation might exempt the Green Mountain lookout from the Wilderness Act. Earlier this year, four members of the state’s congressional delegation introduced legislation to keep the lookout where it is.
“The Forest Service has wasted a lot of money on the lookout project,” said Lider. “Wilderness areas are not supposed to show the heavy hand of man. The CCC are right to be proud of their work, but this is not the lookout they built. Without a lookout, Green Mountain can still be a hiking destination. But it doesn’t need to be a tourist attraction. It needs to be burned down and the remains hauled out by mules or college students.”
Forrest Clark, the Western Washington director of the National Forest Fire Lookout Association, says the lookout is not a problem in its place at the edge of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
“This wilderness is the size of the state of Rhode Island,” Clark said. “A pimple on your face would be a bigger eyesore.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
The U.S. Forest Service is considering issues to be addressed in an environmental study about the proposed move of the Green Mountain lookout to Circle Peak. Comments should be emailed by July 8 to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, go to www.fs.usda.gov/projects/mbs/landmanagement/projects.