DARRINGTON — The Forest Service is proposing to use a helicopter to haul away the fought-over forest fire lookout on Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness and plunk it down eight miles away at the top of Circle Peak.
The proposal comes three years after a Montana-based environmental group, Wilderness Watch, filed a lawsuit against the federal agency for using a helicopter to rebuild the Green Mountain lookout, in violation of the federal Wilderness Act.
The Forest Service maintained that the lookout’s historical significance made its restoration an allowable project. The U.S. District Court in Seattle agreed 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.
Kevin Proescholdt, conservation director of Wilderness Watch, said the use of helicopters to get the lookout off Green Mountain may be the Forest Service’s best solution. Other proposals include burning down the lookout or taking it down by hand and packing it out.
“We are pleased that the Forest Service is moving ahead to implement the judge’s orders. Our focus is restoring Green Mountain to wilderness condition,” Proescholdt said. “The use of a helicopter would be motorized intrusion in the wilderness, but it might be the best option to move the lookout to a spot where people can see it outside of the wilderness.”
Green Mountain’s lookout was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. 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.
Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said the Forest Service began a scoping process under the National Environmental Policy Act on Friday, putting out feelers to ascertain what people think of the idea of moving the lookout to Circle Peak. The action would deal with issues of compliance with the Wilderness Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, so the Forest Service plans to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed relocation project, Forbes said.
“Circle Peak is just across the Suiattle River valley, and it used to have a lookout on it, so that’s why we chose that location,” Forbes said. “We recognize the desire of a lot of people to protect and maintain lookouts, and we know a lot of people don’t want it moved at all.”
Among those who don’t want the Green Mountain lookout destroyed or moved is hiker Scott Morris of the Darrington Historical Society.
Morris and others believe a move to Circle Peak would be a waste of time and money that would be better spent taking care of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
The use of a heavy-lift helicopter is about $20,000 an hour, Forbes said. Altogether, moving the lookout with a helicopter could cost close to $100,000, he said.
That’s an unnecessary expense, Morris said.
“The only good thing I can say about the Circle Peak option is that it would be better than moving it to town as an educational display. It needs to be on a mountain, and it already is, so let’s leave it there,” Morris said. “The Historical Society recognizes that the Forest Service has to abide by the judge’s decision, but we hope to render it moot by encouraging federal legislation that would specifically exempt the Green Mountain lookout from the Wilderness Act.”
Earlier this year, four members of Washington state’s congressional delegation — Democratic U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen — introduced legislation to keep the lookout where it is.
Viet Shelton, spokesman for DelBene, said the congresswoman believes the scoping letter sent Friday is a reminder that Congress needs to move the proposed legislation out of committee. She plans to put pressure on Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of natural resources committee, to give the bill a hearing, he said.
On Monday, DelBene sent a letter to Hastings, explaining that, because of the proposal to move the lookout, the committee needs to consider her bill to keep the lookout where it is.
“The effort to remove this historic landmark has been unnecessary and expensive. To move it would be even more costly at a time when we are trying to save money and be more efficient with taxpayer money,” Shelton said. “It’s all really unfortunate because most people want the lookout to stay where it is.”
Morris noted that in December another environmental group, the Wilderness Society, came out in favor of protecting the Green Mountain lookout.
Wilderness Society spokesman Peter Dykstra said in a statement that the lookout “provides outstanding benefits to the preservation of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and the education of wilderness visitors and does not detract from the qualities we seek in wilderness.” After a draft of the environmental impact statement is released next year, people will have a 45-day period during which to comment. If the plan is approved, the Forest Service will wait until the snow melts in the summer of 2014 to remove the lookout, Forbes said.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.S. Forest Service is considering issues that should be addressed in an environmental study about the proposed move of the Green Mountain lookout to Circle Peak. Comments should be emailed by June 6 to email@example.com. To learn more, go to www.fs.usda.gov/projects/mbs/landmanagement/projects.