Mountain lookout debate nears end
Spearheaded by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a measure last week to save the popular Green Mountain fire lookout, which a federal judge has ordered removed from its perch in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
The U.S. House approved the bill by a voice vote on Monday and it’s on the way to the desk of President Obama, who’s indicated he supports it.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation responded to the vote with praise for the Green Mountain Lookout protection bill as a milestone in the ongoing national discussion about historic resources on public lands.
“The S. 404 legislation protects an integral piece of the Pacific Northwest’s heritage, a key contributor to its local economy, and asserts that wilderness protection need not come at the expense of historic preservation,” said Erica Stewart, the group’s media contact.
The structure was built on 6,500-foot Green Mountain in Washington’s North Cascades in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It served as a fire lookout and as a perch for detecting enemy aircraft during World War II.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Forest Service used a helicopter and machinery to repair it in 2009. That prompted a lawsuit from a Montana-based environmental group: Such methods aren’t allowed in federal wilderness areas, they charged, and the judge agreed.
But since the lookout preceded the 1964 Wilderness Act, and since its remote perch makes a major overhaul in today’s budget climates prohibitive without motorized help, the use of a helicopter was justified, officials say.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that they’re doing this,” said George Nikas, executive director of the Montana-based Wilderness Watch, shortly before the House vote.
The group sued in 2010 to challenge the structure’s construction. “It’s not only harmful to the Glacier Peak Wilderness; it sets a very troubling dangerous precedent for wilderness.”
The structure is popular with hikers, tourists and locals in nearby Darrington, which is reeling from a nearby devastating mud slide that blocked access through the area and killed at least 33 people.