PUBLIC LANDS – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged a key Senate subcommittee today to move forward on a bill to preserve the historic Green Mountain Lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness near Darrington, Wash.
Wilderness advocates have pressed the Forest Service to remove the historic lookout, in part because its precarious location requires helicopter maintenance in violation of wilderness rules.
Darrington-area groups are trying to keep the lookout intact for visitors.
Cantwell advocated for the passage of the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act (S. 404) on Tuesday, during a hearing in the Public Lands, Forestry and Mining Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A representative of the U.S. Forest Service voiced the department’s support for S. 404 during the hearing, and said that local residents wanted the lookout to remain at Green Mountain.
Read on for more details and links to Cantwell's statements.
View video of Cantwell’s opening statement here.
“I did want to mention that Senator Murray and I have both introduced an urgently needed piece of legislation, which is very important to the Pacific Northwest,”said Cantwell during her opening statement at today’s hearing. “It is the Green Mountain Lookout. It sits in a portion of the Glacier Peak Wilderness area and offers spectacular views of Glacier Peak to the south and Mount Baker to the north. Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it served as part of a fire detection system for the North Cascades.… So my colleague and I would like to preserve the Lookout on Green Mountain.”
Senators Cantwell and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Green Mountain bill on Feb. 28, 2013. U.S. Representatives Rick Larsen (WA-02) and Suzan DelBene (WA-01) introduced companion legislation in the House.
“Green Mountain Lookout is an important part of our state’s history, and I was happy to introduce legislation to protect this cherished site,” Senator Murray said. “I am so pleased this legislation has taken a step forward in committee and I will continue working to preserve the lookout for future generations and maintain access to this popular hiking attraction in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.”
In prepared testimony, Leslie Weldon, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, voicedsupport for the senators’ bill.
“The Department supports the bill,”said Deputy Chief Weldon in her prepared testimony. “The Green Mountain Lookout represents a slice in time of the history of the area, and is a feature that is appreciated by many visitors. S.404 would provide the opportunity for future wilderness visitors to see how human influence has shaped our wildlands.”
Cantwell also asked Deputy Chief Weldon about local support for the project and her department’s plans if the lookout is saved through the legislation.
“Have you talked to people in the local community and what have they said about this?”asked Cantwell at today’s hearing.
Deputy Chief Weldon replied: “There’s good support for having it retained as a historic part of the landscape there, within the wilderness.”
Senator Cantwell also asked: “Were you looking to remove or destroy this lookout prior to this court decision?”
Deputy Chief Weldon replied: “We were not. We were actually looking at restoring it and having it continue to occur within the area.”
The need for the legislation arose after a Montana-based group sued the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for using a helicopter and machinery to repair the Green Mountain Lookout. Subsequently in 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered that the USFS needed to move forward with the lookout’s removal.
During World War II the Green Mountain Lookout, located in the Glacier Peak Wilderness within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, served as an early warning station to detect enemy aircraft. Today it is one of only 16 remaining fire lookouts originally managed by the USFS in Northwest Washington.
The introduction of the bill followed an unsuccessful legal challenge to the District Court’s decision. Senators and Representatives from Washington had sent a letter in May 2012 to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging the department to use all legal means necessary to preserve the Green Mountain Lookout’s location in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Cantwell’s opening statement from today’s hearing and her questions follow.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding this hearing. I do have an important piece of legislation that’s on the agenda. I did want to mention that Senator Murray and I have both introduced an urgently needed piece of legislation, which is very important to the Pacific Northwest.
It is the Green Mountain Lookout. It sits in a portion of the Glacier Peak Wilderness area and offers spectacular views of Glacier Peak to the south and Mount Baker to the north. Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it served as part of a fire detection system for the North Cascades.
The lookout served as this role for more than 50 years. For these historic roles, the Forest Service nominated the Green Mountain Lookout, along with 7 other lookouts, to be part of the National Register of Historic Places. In 1987 the National Park Service recognized this historic value and officially listed it in the National Register.
Today it’s one of only 16 of the original 90 that existed. And it’s a very popular hiking destination for many hikers.
The Forest Service is currently working on Environmental Impact Statement to remove the Lookout, next summer, based on a court decision and things that were moving through.
So, I can’t imagine that Congress really intended to remove or destroy these kinds of historic hiking attractions when it passed the 1964 Wilderness Act. So my colleague and I would like to preserve the Lookout on Green Mountain. And this has been endorsed by the Wilderness Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Nature Conservancy, the Back Country Horsemen of America, the Mountaineers, and a variety of other groups and organizations.
So I look forward to hearing any input on that which is also on the docket today, and I thank the Chairman.
Questions for Leslie Weldon, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service:
Senator Cantwell:I wanted to ask Deputy Chief Weldon, first of all thank you so much for your testimony in support of Senate Bill 404. I wanted to just clarify – the Forest Service – were you looking to remove or destroy this lookout prior to this court decision?
Ms. Leslie Weldon, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service: We were not. We were actually looking at restoring it and having it continue to occur within the area.
Senator Cantwell:Okay. And have you talked to people in the local community and what have they said about this?
Deputy Chief Weldon:There’s good support for having it retained as a historic part of the landscape there, within the wilderness.
Senator Cantwell:Okay, so if this legislation was passed this year, the lookout would still be preserved in that time period?
Deputy Chief Weldon: I believe we would need to finish some analysis to allow us to do the complete job of the restoration work we want to do there. But that’s something that doesn’t require an extensive process. We think it could be done relatively soon, but I’m not sure if it would be within the year.
Senator Cantwell:Okay, my point was that if this legislation, 404, passed by the end of the year, you wouldn’t be destroying the lookout tower before then?
Deputy Chief Weldon:We would not.
Senator Cantwell:Thank you, Mr. Chairman.