PUBLIC LANDS -- Maintaining historic cabins with helicopter support is OK in wilderness, according to a federal judge who has rejected efforts by an environmental group to force Olympic National Park to remove five wilderness cabins it recently rebuilt or repaired.
The organization, Montana-based Wilderness Watch, argued that park officials violated the purpose of the federal Wilderness Act when they decided to restore Botten Cabin, Canyon Creek Shelter, Wilder Shelter, Bear Camp Shelter and Elk Lake Shelter since 2009. The group also took issue with how the work was done, because it used helicopters and motorized tools.
The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton in Tacoma rejected those arguments in a decision Wednesday. He said it’s ambiguous whether restoring such structures can be considered a purpose of the Wilderness Act, but deference was due to the National Park Service because it reasonably interpreted the law.
Advocates for the wilderness structures had this reaction:
“We applaud the Court for ruling that the designation of wilderness need not result in the erasure of cultural resources within that landscape,” said Brian Turner, senior field officer and attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We believe that Olympic National Park’s historic cabins, trail shelters, and other rustic structures are an enhancement, not a detriment to experiencing the land’s natural beauty and share the court’s opinion that the Wilderness Act and the National Historic Preservation Act can be used in concert to ensure that Olympic’s heritage is intact for future generations of Park users.”
“The court’s ruling has far-reaching implications,” noted Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. “It enables the National Park Service and other federal agencies that manage America’s wilderness to meet their stewardship mission related to historic and cultural resources in a manner that complies with the Wilderness Act. Washingtonians understand that the historic structures in our backcountry areas complement the Wilderness experience.”
“The decision is a fitting tribute to former Washington Senator Daniel J. Evans,” said Rod Farlee, vice-president of the Friends of Olympic National Park. “Senator Evans was instrumental to the passage of legislation creating the Olympic Wilderness and supported the preservation of its backcountry structures.” On December 9 Congress passed a law renaming the wilderness in honor Senator Evans, which President Obama is expected to sign into law.