A fire lookout in a wilderness speaks of our past

  • Ana Maria Spagna


If monster mansions in Jackson, Wyo., or Sun Valley, Idaho, can boast million-dollar views, what's a historic cabin in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness worth? From this cabin that used to be a wildfire lookout, you can see a sea of summits, glaciers, a volcano and hidden lakes mostly surrounded by uncut forests.

Green Mountain Lookout, a historic 14-by-14-foot structure built in 1933, has gone through several stages of rehabilitation, and then, after a few missteps, a reconstruction. Now, suddenly, a group called Wilderness Watch wants to tear it down.

If you want to be contrary about this issue, there are plenty of arguments against fire lookouts.  There's the premise critics start with -- the mistaken idea decades ago that putting out all fires was noble and necessary.  Then there's the fact that wilderness is supposed to be untrammeled, and what's a flammable wooden and glass house on a mountaintop if not hardcore trammeling?  And to be honest -- as someone who worked in the woods -- I don't feel called upon to revere the various writers and poets who were paid to sit and scribble in some of these historic lookouts.

Still, Green Mountain Lookout takes my breath away. I don't idolize the (mostly) men who spent their summers sitting inside, but I am awed by the people who built the lookouts.  Often they were Civilian Conservation Corps members or local packers or trail workers, poorly paid and outfitted.  Always they were hardy and courageous, skilled and earnest, and wowed -- I'm guessing now -- by the luck that landed them in these unspeakably lovely places.

I make this guess, in part, because I have friends who helped rebuild Green Mountain Lookout: not just the hewing and sawing and the careful salvage of shiplap siding, but the paper-pushing, the negotiating, the hoop-hopping required to make it happen.  I cannot bear to toss their good labors aside.

This is not to say that everything built must stay built.  The Elwha Dam is a case in point.  I'll be there cheering when it comes down.  The Green Mountain Lookout may, arguably, be doing little good, but it's also doing no harm.  It's not, for example, dooming an entire salmon run to extinction.  The lookout's only crimes are crimes against human sensibilities.

The basis for the Wilderness Watch lawsuit lies in helicopters.  Helicopters are, of course, officially forbidden in wilderness, though they are used to fight fires, for rescues and occasionally for trail construction -- or in this case, lookout reconstruction -- once the proper hoops have been hopped.  The gray area is troublesome, sure. But is the offense of hearing a helicopter so heinous it merits a lawsuit?  Is it worse than the treatment of prisoners of war (or non-war)?  Or the poisoning of rivers?  Or the denial of climate change? Part of what galls me in this case is the sheer waste of activist energy.

But there's more.  If every human instinct has a rusty underbelly, the downside of wilderness protection is the desire to pretend we are the first humans to arrive in a pristine land.  As if Lewis and Clark did not depend on the kindness of Indians.  As if modern hikers do not depend on constructed roads, cleared trails, sturdy bridges.  Fooling ourselves into believing we're first seems like a kind of re-conquering, a dangerous game that allows our egos to grow big and unwieldy, the same egos that wreaked havoc in the first place.

I don't want to play pretend.   I'd rather honor the people who came before me.  I'd rather share their passion for grandeur. If I'm lucky enough to spend the night in a lookout that's meticulously maintained by volunteers or seasonal laborers, I'd rather appreciate the roof over my head as I look out at the roofless miles, and be grateful.

Wilderness is about humility.  Walk a dozen miles off a road and you're instantly at the mercy of predators and of the elements.  You can be humbled by nature, and also, I'd argue, by our own humanity.

Stand at Green Mountain Lookout and look to the southwest.  You can see the scars of clear-cuts and the stretch of highway that leads to shopping malls and parking lots and paved-over wetlands.   Humanity is responsible for both clear-cuts and the Wilderness Act, and even for a few lines of poetry that have transcended geography and generation.

Among the best things wilderness can do is make us realize that what we do counts. Some of it is marvelous, some of it catastrophic.  Fire lookouts sit smack on the divide.  Tearing down Green Mountain Lookout won't erase that.

Ana Maria Spagna is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an op ed syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org). She is a writer in Stehekin, Washington.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Rod Farlee
Rod Farlee Subscriber
Jul 10, 2011 04:31 PM
Beautifully written.

For more information, visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation http://blog.preservationnation.org/[…]/
Dawn Serra
Dawn Serra
Jul 11, 2011 04:29 PM
Ana Maria Spagna’s piece, Cabin Fever profoundly missed the mark. While the author may dislike Wilderness Watch’s work to protect the Glacier Peak Wilderness by taking the Forest Service to court over this unlawfully-built replica, her opinions and emotional attachment to the structure don’t change the facts surrounding its construction and history (or lack thereof).

Putting aside for the moment the fact that the Wilderness Act prohibits the construction or reconstruction of non-essential buildings in Wilderness, the Forest Service dealt history the death-blow in 2002 when it tore down what remained of the original hand-built and mule-hauled Green Mountain lookout constructed in 1933. What’s now standing at the top of Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington is a new structure built in 2009 that was helicoptered in, not packed on mules; supported by concrete footings rather than native stones; assembled with power tools, not hand saws and hammers; and built without any public notice or environmental analysis. (See the construction in progress here.) Its construction is a testament to modern engineering and transportation technology, rather than the pioneering wilderness skills by which the original lookout was hewn. To be sure, the agency re-used some of the original materials and the “cabin” looks like many old lookouts, but to equate the historic value of this new building to the original is akin to placing a grizzly from the taxidermist’s shop in the forest and pretending it to be the living, breathing, wilderness beast that once roamed there. No proper “hoops were hopped,” as Ms. Spagna likes to say, likely because the agency knew it would be breaking the law and preferred not to announce the fact in advance.

Wilderness Watch’s lawsuit seeks to restore the wilderness character of the Glacier Peak Wilderness by returning Green Mountain to its natural condition. To claim the basis of the lawsuit is the use of helicopters disregards too many important facts. It’s not the “offense of hearing a helicopter,” that deserves a lawsuit, but rather the Forest Service’s disregard for the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and the resulting harm done to the Wilderness.

Everybody has a reason for giving his or her particular interest precedence over the law and the restrictions imposed on others. But the Wilderness Act and its founders got it right in setting Wilderness apart from all other public lands, “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man… retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions…”

As “increasing populations accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization” spread across the whole of North America, the Wilderness Act protects extraordinary places like the Glacier Peak Wilderness so future generations can know wild, unsettled and undeveloped lands.
Mary M Kwart
Mary M Kwart Subscriber
Jul 13, 2011 01:28 PM
Its time to question our attachment to outdated ideas about what "wilderness" is. There was no wilderness in this country when Europeans arrived--native people inhabited every place, traveled over every place, foraged and hunted in every place. We should stop being at war with our outdated ideas that laud the "purity" of a bygone wilderness ethic and face the fact that some of our "improvements" are worth saving that do not significantly impact the wilderness ecosystem. They are a testament to our shared culture and history. The fact a board was brought in by helicopter or a powertool was used to erect the building only makes a difference to us, not the plants and animals of the area, by threatening our attachment to our "idea" of wilderness purity. I have backpacked the entire Pacific Crest Trail as well as other trails in other states and worked for the US Forest Service, National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service. My idea of what "wilderness" is has evolved over the years. I think the key is to understand the word "trammeling". I don't think the lookout qualifies as "trammeling" the wilderness. I would argue that the Wilderness Act wording is an artifact of a patriarchal mindset that considers we Euro Americans to be naughty and destructive children in all our dealings with nature.It's time to encourage a more mature mindset that allows for nuance and complexity in our relationship with the land.
Jeff Kane
Jeff Kane
Jul 13, 2011 01:32 PM
While I appreciate Ms. Spagna's fervor for this lookout and defense of the effort of her friends in building a replica, two crucial pieces of information are entirely absent from her diatribe against Wilderness Watch. As a service to its readers, I would hope that Writers on the Range would take more care in editing future contributions that are so critical of the efforts of citizen conservation groups.

First, multiple times, including in the second sentence, Ms. Spagna implies that without the lookout, the views from Green Mountain would somehow be diminished. But the truth is, the view from Green Mountain would be even better without the lookout. Visitors could have a 360 degree panorama of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. No longer would they have to circumnavigate each of the lookouts four sides in order to get partial views. And visitors elsewhere in the wilderness would no longer be confronted by this structure swallowing the top of one of its most prominent natural features.

Second, while faulting Wilderness Watch for seeking to enforce Congress's direction in the Wilderness Act, absent is any discussion of why it came to this. How did the Forest Service authorize the re-construction of a structure that is clearly in violation of the Wilderness Act? Why did the agency not do the right thing in the first place? Apparently, as discussed in a comment above, the Forest Service disregarded the requirements of NEPA. By doing so, the agency also no doubt failed to solicit or ignored the comments of "activists" that would have informed the agency that their plan was illegal. So how can Ms. Spagna fault Wilderness Watch for its efforts to get our public servants to follow the law, rather than disregard it? In other words, who is really responsible for this "waste" of effort and energy?

I do commend Ms. Spagna for noting the chief virtue of the Wilderness Act: humility. This is a message that should be broadcast at every opportunity in this day and age of over-consumption, irresponsibility, and lack of accountability. But I really wish she would have asked herself who was lacking in humility when it was decided to reconstruct the Green Mountain Lookout, unlawfully and without public involvement.
Rod Farlee
Rod Farlee Subscriber
Jul 13, 2011 03:28 PM
Dawn Serra misstates the facts.

(1) She claims "the Wilderness Act prohibits the construction or reconstruction of non-essential buildings in Wilderness"

False. The Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133 (2)(c)) sets preserving historical value as a Wilderness goal, (4)(a) states Wilderness is "supplemental to the purposes for which national forests are established" including historic preservation, and (a)(3) states that the designation of wilderness "shall in no manner lower the standards evolved for the use and preservation" of the area under the National Historic Sites Act and National Historic Preservation Act, which allow both essential and historic structures.

The Wilderness Act itself explicitly places historic preservation among the founding goals of Wilderness.

If you love Wilderness, please embrace the ENTIRE Wilderness Act!

(2) She claims "What’s now standing at the top of Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington is a new structure"

False. It is the historic structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, retaining 75% of its original materials, repaired in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act. See the National Trust for Historic Preservation for more http://blog.preservationnation.org/[…]/

(3) She claims the lookout was rebuilt "built without any public notice or environmental analysis".

False. The NEPA process was completely public and highly popular, and concluded with a Decision Notice on Sept. 28, 1998. In 1999, the project was funded through publically awarded federal Millenium Council, state and local grants, and well over a hundred volunteers from Friends of Green Mountain Lookout, Washington Trails Association, and several other groups have devoted their personal efforts. To those of us here in Washington, who have seen numerous public notices, public meetings, newspaper and magazine articles, and public signboards about this over the past two decades, and know it has always been an extremely public and popular project, the claim that there was "no public notice" is beyond false, it is completely absurd! Green Mountain is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the entire state!

(4) In her opinion, the Forest Service "disregarded the law".

False. Read the USFS official chronology of actions, and decide for yourself. http://tinyurl.com/68vbb5y

(5) In her opinion, "to equate the historic value of this new building to the original" is absurd.

It is the original, repaired under direction of the State Historic Preservation Office as required by the National Historic Preservation Act, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These official opinions carry far more weight with the hundred or more volunteers who worked on it, and the thousands who choose it as a hiking destination each year.

Wilderness Watch is amazingly blind to the facts, and to the overwealming public support for this lookout.

Opinions are one thing, but facts are another. The false statements made by Ms. Serra go far beyond the scope of mere misunderstandings. On matters of public record and public policy, deliberate lies are simply not acceptable. That is why none, not a single one, of the dozens of active wilderness or environmental groups here in Washington state supports their position, and instead have explicitly distanced themselves from it.
Rod Farlee
Rod Farlee Subscriber
Jul 13, 2011 03:40 PM
A MUST READ for all interested is the amicus brief filed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in support of the USFS. Besides correcting the many factual errors in Wilderness Watch's lawsuit, it addresses the absurd relief they seek - rather than reconsideration of its maintenance with a further NEPA analysis - outright removal of the lookout, a remedy unsupported by law or precedent.

Talasi Brooks
Talasi Brooks
Jul 13, 2011 04:50 PM
Dear Ms. Spagna,

I know a little bit about your background in trails and wilderness because I read your book, "Now Go Home." As a former seasonal wilderness/trails employee, I could relate to your experiences, which are similar to my own. But I disagree with your view of this lookout.

The Wilderness Act is the strongest piece of landscape protection legislation that we have. While indeed there is a level of irony inherent in humans setting aside land so that it retains the illusion of being untouched, the fact remains that this is the best legislation we have to protect landscapes. No blanket law protects full ecosystems—the closest things we have are laws that protect individual resources, and that protect landscapes from human exploitation. And these protections aren’t enough. As it is, mining companies are trying to tunnel underneath wilderness areas, or mine them by air. Wildlife management practices can change ecological communities. Some wildernesses are accessible by air for recreational use. These practices, and others, have ecological consequences.

In academic literature, wildernesses have been described as "Sabbath places," a view that begins to do justice to what Senator Hubert Humphrey and others intended in advocating tirelessly for wilderness preservation. Although some nostalgic sentiment spurred wilderness protection, the Wilderness Act was actually a forward-thinking piece of legislation. Its founders anticipated a time when motors and mechanization would be so prevalent that quiet and simplicity would be rare luxuries. They protected wilderness so that we would have “untouched” land to use as a scientific control against which to gauge management experiments conducted elsewhere. To paraphrase a central wilderness concept whose author escapes me right now: the first rule of successful tinkering is to save all the parts. Wilderness is meant to teach us humility.

For people like you or I, who have spent significant portions of our lives in wild places, a helicopter might not be a big deal. But for someone for whom escape to the wilderness is a rare luxury, why change what that experience might have been? And although I too appreciate the high-quality work of the CCCs, building trails has taught me that human works are impermanent. The wild will eventually consume even the most well-constructed structures. It seems in keeping with the spirit of wilderness to let time have its way with them once their utility has expired.

Most importantly, perhaps, wilderness is as much a concept as it is a physical entity. If we let that concept fray around the edges, by permitting unnecessary motorized use or maintaining un-needed human developments, wilderness will slowly lose its value and its wildness. If the meaning of our most stringent wildland protection law erodes, we risk losing its ecological and scientific protections. Somebody needs to hold that hard line so we don’t lose the benefit of the resource our predecessors fought so hard to secure for us. I see wilderness’s most precious human legacy in what is not there.

Talasi Brooks
Kevin Geraghty
Kevin Geraghty
Jul 13, 2011 07:16 PM
Historic, shmistoric. Since when is a structure built in 1933 (and with an all-new foundation and structural members made out of siberian larch glu-lam beams) historic by any reasonable definition? If the Green mtn lookout is historic, my neighborhood must be doubly so, since it is a good fifteen years older.

Personally some of the pleasantest lookout experiences I remember are coming up on derelict falling-down ones in the Frank Church. These lookouts are monuments to a failed and destructive fire-suppression policy, and I won't miss their passing at all.

It's true, some people are lookout enthusiasts and develop attachments to these tip-top-houses. People have all kinds of strange hobbies and hobby-horses, which they are entitled to indulge but there is no good reason for the federal government to waste money rebuilding a structure which has no real function anymore, using methods which with high likelihood violate the wilderness act, just to indulge lookout fetishists.
Rod Farlee
Rod Farlee Subscriber
Jul 16, 2011 11:20 AM
In Wilderness, some seek solitude in rain forests of towering spruce and cedar, some prefer open vistas of pine, juniper and sage, some the urchins in the tidepools and otters playing in the surf. Some seek mountains to scale as tests of personal skill, some view the same mountains simply as magnificant scenery, some as revealing the deep history of the continent writ in granite, rhyolite and limestone. Many seek the bugling of elk, whistling marmot, bear fishing for salmon, some the simple murmur of birdsong across a meadow of a thousand wildflowers. Many appreciate mere novelty from urban life, while some may indeed cherish historic isolated backcountry shelters and lookouts, the purposes for which they were built, and the efforts of those who built and restored them, especially on a rainy or snowy night! The scars of the Big Burn of 1910 can still be seen on the landscape, as can monuments built by those who said "never again".

The Wilderness Act protects "ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value." It protects all these diverse values, and leaves it to us to strive to appreciate as best we can. Many of these features are apparent on the surface; many are more subtle and ask more of us. Wilderness is about humility, as Ana Maria writes, a key to unlock deeper, broader appreciation. Man has had a place within Wilderness for millennia, and we have recently dated archeological sites here within Olympic Wilderness to 8,000 years! Does that lessen, or deepen, your appreciation of Wilderness? The answer may well say something about you... but nothing about Wilderness, which simply abides.

To see a member of the North Cascades Conservation Council Board of Directors above, so blithely dismissing one of the founding values of the Wilderness Act is... simply sad. To see Wilderness Watch campaigning for its destruction... doubly so.

The Wilderness Act challenges us to harmonize all these values. Ana Maria hopes to inspire to us to. Shall we maintain "trammelled" trails, or blockade them? Or the historic sites they lead to? Or the roads that bring us to them? The real question is more pragmatic: Could anyone think this lawsuit (and others like it) helps build public support for future Wilderness designations? Or undermines it?

This answer is, I'm afraid, all too clear. This lawsuit is to be mourned. For Wilderness is designated by Congress, built upon public consensus, not on division or Kevin's shallow derision. There are bigger issues, yet it seeks to destroy, not preserve. Diversity of appreciation for Wilderness is a strength, Kevin, one to be nurtured and celebrated. Not a weakness to be scorned. Sad.

- Rod Farlee, member Board of Directors, Friends of Olympic NP friendsonp.org
Ana Maria Spagna
Ana Maria Spagna
Jul 17, 2011 11:53 AM
My sincere thanks to Rod Farlee for his eloquent responses to Dawn Serra (Communications Coordinator for Wilderness Watch) and others in a discussion that I have found almost unbearably disheartening. He has covered the relevant points.
*The Green Mountain lookout is, in no sense, a "new" structure or installation. The details are laid out on the Mt. Baker –Snoqualmie NF website (http://tinyurl.com/68vbb5y) as follows:
“Roof framing uses 75 percent of the 1950s framing with some new material for strength,
60 percent of original shiplap roofing material used,
75 percent of original exterior siding used
75 percent of original interior drop siding, flooring and beadboard ceiling, original firefinder, table, chairs and cabinet”
Anyone who has worked in historic preservation can attest to how difficult this kind of salvage and rehabilitation can be. A genuinely new structure would’ve been a million times easier to construct if that were the intention.

*The Wilderness Act nowhere uses the word “reconstruction” and, in Section 4 (a,b), gives broad authority for interpretation to the agencies which manage the land.

*The project did not sneak – indeed, due to its high visibility, could never have sneaked – beneath the legal radar. Not only were the NEPA requirements completed in 1998, as Mr. Farlee notes, enthusiastic volunteers from a variety of organizations were involved throughout the process.

Of course, none of these facts will persuade Wilderness hard-liners who, like fundamentalists everywhere, see themselves as keepers of the true faith. And that’s where my disheartenment comes in: not from the disingenuousness of the Wilderness Watch arguments or the genuine differences in opinion over the role of humankind in Wilderness (my own philosophy, like Ms. Kwart’s, has evolved over the years and will likely continue to do so) but the blatant refusal to try – humbly, respectfully – to acknowledge and weigh conflicting values in the Act, to strive for consensus, to build public support. This is the hard and thankless work that USFS officials and others do every single day, work that lawsuits like this undermine.
Rick McGuire
Rick McGuire
Jul 19, 2011 12:00 AM
What I'd like to know is how much money was spent on this crazy "restoration." Who paid for the 69 helicopter flights, and how much did they cost? I think I know the answer, the Forest Service in its wisdom decided to spend public money on this to satisfy the lookout fetish crowd, and it was simply added to the national debt.

No doubt they'll never say how much it really cost. But I know helicopter time isn't cheap. Strange priorities. I rather think it will be looked back upon within a few years as madness, along with a lot of other things. I doubt there will be any helicopter flights to it next time it rots away.
 George Nickas
George Nickas Subscriber
Jul 19, 2011 02:17 PM
Rod Farlee’s (and now Ms. Spagna’s) attacks on Dawn Serra are filled with too many inaccuracies to let slide. Moreover, throwing around language like “deliberate lies” and “disingenuousness” reminds me of the adage that the weaker the arguments, the more vitriol with which they’ll be spewed.

Farlee and Spagna first take Ms. Serra to task for claiming the Wilderness Act prohibits construction or reconstruction of non-essential structures. Serra is right, of course. Her claim has been upheld in every federal case that has ever addressed this question. Farlee's supposed "facts" are the very arguments the government has used each time it has lost. The Forest Service admits as much in its legal briefs in the Green Mountain case, urging the court to ignore all previous legal precedent and to chart a new course.

Second, they take Serra to task for claiming the new building on Green Mountain is a new structure. Farlee's claim that the new building includes “75 percent of its original materials” is misleading at best. For starters, it implies that what was hauled off the mountain in 2002 was the original 1933 structure. Apparently he's not familiar with the building's history. The winter of 1949-50 tore apart the original lookout, according to Forest Service records, and the lookout had to be rebuilt. It is unknown how much of the original materials were reused, the record only indicates that the roof was a total loss and the FS salvaged what it could of the rest. Three decades later when the lookout was first studied for listing on the national register both the Forest Service and State Historic Preservation Office concluded it had already been too much changed and didn’t qualify. In the last 30 years many other changes were made and materials replaced. Even if the latest construction reused “75 percent” of what was on the mountain in 2002 (a claim for which Farlee provides no evidence except a statement by the FS, hardly a neutral party to the dispute), that’s a far cry from the building being the “original”.

That the Forest Service and SHPO more recently changed their minds about the building’s historic status is most likely a function of changing ideas and motivations for qualifying structures. We’re fortunate the Wilderness Act’s prohibitions and safeguards remain intact regardless of the ephemeral views of individual bureaucrats.

Third, Farlee and Spagna claim the Forest Service followed NEPA procedures when it signed a decision notice in 1998. That decision only authorized some on-site restoration actions that were completed and the contractor paid shortly thereafter. The action now being challenged began in 2002 (after heavy snows the previous winter badly damaged the lookout), when the Forest Service airlifted the nearly collapsed lookout off the mountain, and culminated with building the new structure, which involved something like 80 helicopter incursions into the Wilderness. This entire action lacked any public notice or NEPA documentation. It just happened.

This isn’t the first time efforts to preserve historic structures or promote historic values have run afoul of the Wilderness Act. Whether it was an attempt to reconstruct several abandoned historic dams in the Emigrant Wilderness, to replace collapsed trailside shelters in the Olympic Wilderness, or run motor vehicle tours to view and maintain historic structures in the Cumberland Island Wilderness, those who have placed the perpetuation of modern human history above that of preserving an area’s wilderness character have misread or misunderstood a fundamental tenet of the Wilderness Act, and in their efforts have threatened to undermine it. Wilderness is fortunate that thus far the courts have not allowed them to prevail.

Judge Franklin Burgess best described it when he rejected the Park Service’s proposal to replace two collapsed, historic trailside shelters in the Olympic Wilderness:

“While the former structures may have been found to have met the requirements for historic preservation, that conclusion is one that is applied to a man-made shelter in the context of the history of their original construction and use in the Olympic National Park. Once the Olympic Wilderness was designated, a different perspective on the land is required. Regarding the Olympic Wilderness, that perspective means “land retaining its primitive character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

George Nickas, Executive Director, Wilderness Watch
Ronna Sommers
Ronna Sommers
Jul 19, 2011 02:56 PM
Surely this will not happen! To tear down the cabin that kind hands crafted is wasteful and frivolous...and furthermore, I will NOT DONATE my money to a group that would advocate such nonsense....AND I WOULD URGE MY FRIENDS TO DO LIKEWISE!
Christopher Reed
Christopher Reed
Jul 20, 2011 11:41 AM
Well said Ronna
Bernie Smith
Bernie Smith
Jul 22, 2011 09:22 AM
As pointed out by other commentators the Ana Maria Spagna piece presents one view of the issue on the new Green Mountain Lookout. It might be a nice thing to have a secure room with a view in wilderness but it isn't right and it isn't legal.
One can look at this issue and see a multitude of reasons why it is wrong. It is wrong because the Forest Service has failed to do an adequate environmental analysis of this project. It is wrong because the Forest Service has violated the Wilderness Act in building a permanent structure and human habitation in wilderness and used unrestrained motorized equipment to do it. It is wrong because this project is high cost historic preservation at its weakest and most irrelevant. It is wrong because of the expenditure of funds - the record shows about $250,000 spent from grants, salaries, and contributions to build a structure that will be used as a recreation facility (as a visitor center or trail shelter) and used as an electronic site. The Forest Service is evasive about just how the structure will be used. All of the stated uses conflict with the Wilderness Act because they are not necessary for the preservation of wilderness resource.
This structure ceased its role as an active lookout in the late 1970's because its continued maintenance could not be justified. Like many other lookouts better ways were available for detecting fires. The structure was condemned in the late 1990's - it had shifted on its foundation and was no longer safe. The Forest Service elected to fix it and labeled the work to be done "repair". This allowed the agency to "categorically exclude" the project from any serious environmental analysis. Eight helicopter flights and use of a rock drill were approved in the 1998 Decision Memo. The authorized repairs, which most would call re-construction, included jacking up the structure and replacing the footings, the support beams, the support posts, catwalk, railings, roof connections, exterior siding, and a cable anchor system. Replacement wood in the base, the catwalk and railings was penta-treated and would have been a health hazard for anyone staying overnight in the structure. Penta-treated lumber and the cylindrical footings used were also not historically correct. No matter, because the new base failed almost immediately demonstrating the inability of the Forest Service to engineer and build a structure that could withstand conditions on the summit of Green Mountain. The structure was saved only by the cable anchor system installed to keep it from sliding off the peak. In 2002, after this collapse the lookout was dismantled, bundled up and flown to the Darrington Ranger Station for restoration.
Fortunately for the Forest Service, the neighborly National Park Service does have the expertise to construct facilities that can withstand the wilderness elements and the NPS bailed them out. In 2009 a NPS team engineered and constructed a new base with enough concrete, heavier timbers, bigger bolts, specially welded saddles, plates and other hardware to do the job. The soil on the peak was excavated to bedrock, the summit rock was chiseled down to provide better footing and drilled to pin the foundation to the bedrock. After the base was completed the refurbished cabin parts were flown back to the summit, complete with steel framing, and reconstructed on the new base. Photos in the record show the not quite complete structure being built of new construction material, with generators and power tools, steel cabin framing , a massive new base, and little or no hint of the original structure. The record shows unrestrained use of helicopter flights (at least 80) and all the power tools one might want.
The original structure was built in 1933 with livestock to move all the material to the summit. All of the construction was done by hand. Little concrete was used since hauling sand, cement, and water up the mountain was too much work. In 1933 this lookout was build with a sense of military mission, to protect the National Forests from fire. The new structure was built with different methods and tools and much new material. It has no purpose and is simply a monument to changing times and Forest Service distain for wilderness. It does not honor the land or the folks who built the original in 1933.
The old base lasted roughly sixty years. The 2001 base lasted two years. The new supersized facsimile base should last many lifetimes and as envisioned by the Forest Service will provide a unique opportunity for recreationists to meet a volunteer lookout interpreter on Green Mountain or to camp in a cabin 3 miles inside the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Much has been said about the suit brought by Wilderness Watch. The Forest Service was questioned by citizens about this new structure for the better part of a year and provided only evasive and incomplete answers to the most basic questions. This should be one of the proudest elements of our democracy. When two parties, in this case citizens and members of Wilderness Watch and the U. S. Forest Service, a government agency, cannot agree on an issue it can be brought to a court of law and decided by an impartial judge based on merits of law as presented by both sides of the issue. Resolving an issue like this in a court of law represents civility at its best.

Rod Farlee
Rod Farlee Subscriber
Jul 24, 2011 10:29 PM
Civility is a goal for which we should all aspire. Civility means participation in the public planning process, the public information meetings and public comment periods that preceded the foundation repairs. The local chapter of Wilderness Watch was informed of this in advance in writing, and chose not to participate - a fact they now find inconvenient to mention. Years later, after the repairs are complete, Wilderness Watch then choses to sue! This is not civility. Wilderness Watch ignored many opportunities to participate in a civil manner - there's nothing civil about an untimely post-hoc suit - and the court should toss it on that basis alone.

Why all this artificial strum und drang about its historic attributes? Because only by claiming the lookout is NOT historic can WW manufacture a thread of precedent on which to hang this flimsy lawsuit. Sorry, WW, it is listed in the National Register, all the repair plans were approved by the State Historic Preservation Office as provided by the National Historic Preservation Act, and that office also initiated a major grant to accomplish the restoration. What's truly unprecedented here is they are asking a court to overturn the extensive established process by which Federal properties are evaluated for eligibility in the National Register. Shoot, to listen to Bertie, you'd think The White House itself isn't historic, because President Harry Truman built a new foundation under it!
Paul Wagner
Paul Wagner Subscriber
Jul 25, 2011 10:17 PM
Thank you Rod Farlee for saying well what I would like to say but cannot without cussing the plaintiffs for forcing the Forest Service to spend so much money on legal fees. Money that could be going to maintain our trails, campgrounds and public roads.
Bernie Smith's comment on $250,000 spent to restore the GM LO has volunteer time lumped in with everything else. That volunteer time is a big part. Bernie, how much did you spend on various projects when you were the FS recreation manager at Darrington or District Ranger at Baker River?

I for one, no longer support the designation of new wilderness areas because of this kind of extremist nonsense. I have found the forest and mountains to be no different on the 2 sides of the wilderness boundary signs.