Group’s lawsuit threatens Wilderness Act it seeks to protect

More than 50 yeas ago, when the Wilderness Act of 1964 created the nation’s system of wilderness preservation, the intent was to recognize those backcountry areas as places “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

For the most part that has meant, along with rules limiting the use of motorized equipment, that no permanent structures are allowed in wilderness areas. But that ethic has been complicated where wilderness designations have been placed on areas where fire lookouts, trail shelters and similar structures have existed for decades, often long before creation of the Wilderness Act itself.

That was the struggle that for several years pitted a Montana-based wilderness advocacy group against the National Forest Service and residents in the Darrington area who fought to save the historic Green Mountain fire lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Wilderness Watch sued in 2010 to have the lookout removed, following restoration work it claimed violated the act. Ultimately, it took an act of Congress in the weeks after the Oso landslide to save the structure.

Wilderness Watch has now set its attention against five structures within the wilderness areas of Olympic National Park, and has filed suit in a federal District Court in Tacoma, seeking removal of a cabin and four three-sided trail shelters in the park, again claiming that maintenance and restoration of the structures violates the act.

But the cabin and shelters were standing long before the creation of the Wilderness Act, and each carries some historical significance for the era in which it was built. One, the Canyon Creek Shelter, was built by crews with the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939 and overlooks Sol Duc Falls. It is the last such structure built by the CCC that remains in the park and was placed on the National Historic Register in 2007. Another, Botten Cabin, was built in 1928, features hand-crafted dovetail-notched corners and was added to the register in 2007 because of its architectural significance and its association with Olympic’s recreational history.

To protect the threatened structures, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the Friends of Olympic National Park have joined with the National Parks Service as defendants against the Wilderness Watch suit. Oral arguments are expected later this summer.

“We are asking the court to affirm the National Park Service’s authority to maintain and manage Olympic’s historic structures in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act and the Wilderness Act,” said Brian Turner, senior field officer and an attorney with the national trust. “These two laws are in the public interest and should be used in concert to guide the stewardship of all wilderness areas to ensure that future generations are able to experience the wealth of America’s natural and historic treasures.”

Without a doubt, America’s wilderness areas need watchdogs, and Wilderness Watch has fulfilled that role on many occasions, but its campaign against trail shelters, cabins and lookouts, particularly those with historic value, is myopic and fails to, well, see the forest for the trees.

Last summer, Washington state members of Congress Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Derek Kilmer introduced the Wild Olympics Act to add wilderness protection to more than 126,000 acres of National Forest land that surrounds Olympic National Park and also place 19 rivers and tributaries on the Olympic Peninsula in the nation’s Wild and Scenic River system.

Battles over rustic shelters only divert time and resources that instead could be used to lobby for passage of the Wild Olympics bill. More importantly, such rigid demands risk the loss of public support for the protections offered by the Wilderness Act.

In wilderness, man is a visitor who should not remain. But fewer squabbles over inconsequential issues will help ensure that the wilderness does remain.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Sept. 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Randall Tharp’s month recovery coins after battling a fentanyl addiction.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Editorial: Fentanyl crisis should force rethinking of approach

A continuum of care, that includes treatment in jails, is imperative, says a journalist and author.

FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks are seen operating in Bakersfield, Calif. On Friday, April 23, 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would halt all new fracking permits in the state by January 2024. He also ordered state regulators to plan for halting all oil extraction in the state by 2045. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Comment: If ‘peak oil’ is ahead why is oil industry doubling down?

Fossil fuel use could peak by 2030, but Big Oil may be putting profit ahead of prudent transition.

Reports back removal of Snake River dams to save salmon

The recent letter to the editor claiming that removing dams on the… Continue reading

Comment: ‘Legacy forest’ term hides an unproductive intent

Meant to lock up state forest lands, it discourages responsible and valuable timber management.

Comment: Effort to lower drug costs could hurt other patients

Those suffering from rare diseases face a longer wait for medications if research is discouraged.

Forum: Hospital waiting rooms shouldn’t be patient warehouses

Why are hospitals, like Providence, understaffed with nurses, leaving patients to wait for hours for care?

Flowers bloom on the end of a dead tree on Spencer Island on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Restore salmon habitat but provide view of its work

Comments are sought on a plan to restore fish habitat to the island east of Everett with popular trails.

FILE - Six-year-old Eric Aviles receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from pharmacist Sylvia Uong at a pediatric vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11 set up at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. In a statement Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, California's public health officer, Dr. Tomas J. Aragon, said that officials are monitoring the Omicron variant. There are no reports to date of the variant in California, the statement said. Aragon said the state was focusing on ensuring its residents have access to vaccines and booster shots. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Editorial: A plea for watchful calm this time regarding covid

We don’t need a repeat of uncontrolled infections or of the divisions over vaccines and masks.

Most Read