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Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Mar 29, 2012 04:05 PM |
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On March 27, Federal District Judge John Coughenor ordered that the recently restored Green Mountain Lookout be removed.

The historic Green Mountain Lookout might be breathing its last. On March 27, Federal District Judge John Coughenor ordered that the Green Mountain Lookout be removed.

Built in 1933, the lookout, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was used for decades to spot fires in the North Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Since the mid-1980s the structure has been a popular destination for hikers venturing in from the Suiattle River Road (this road has been closed due to flooding since 2006).

However, decades of heavy snow, rain and mountain sun weathered the lookout and its foundation. A failed 2002 attempt to repair the foundation led to the Forest Service helicoptering the structure to Darrington, where it was restored by volunteers. Seventy-five percent of the original structure's materials were used in the restoration project, and in 2009, it was helicoptered back to its former perch.

In 2010, Montana-based Wilderness Watch sued to force removal of the structure, contending that the project violated the Wilderness Act's ban on structure and motorized equipment and did not comply with procedural requirements outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). And on Tuesday, Judge Coughenor ruled in Wilderness Watch's favor. Peter Forbes, Darrington District Ranger told me, "The judge made his decision on March 27, and we received the ruling today. We have 60 days to review the decision and determine whether to appeal, as well as how to apply with the Court's decision."

Appeal is certainly one option that the Forest Service has in this case. According to Brian Turner, Senior Field Officer/Attorney in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's San Francisco Field Office, "It's unclear as to whether there will be an appeal. The U.S. Attorney will make the case for an appeal to the Solicitor General, and they'll make a decision based on that." Turner continued, "A small silver lining of this case is that the ruling clarifies that the meaning of the word "historic" as used in the Wilderness Act can refer to man-made as well as natural history. This decision is not the death of historic structures in wilderness."

Lookouts are a deep part of the post-settlement history of the Pacific Northwest. These solitary buildings in their rarified environments are a touchstone to others who have explored these peaks before us. For decades, they housed hard workers, loners, wilderness mystics, and in the case of the North Cascades lookouts, poets. Should the Forest Service decline to appeal this decision, one more piece of that history will pass, and we'll be poorer for it.


Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

Why does Montana-based Wilderness Watch want the Lookout removed?

And why doesn't the designation of "Historic" give protection to this piece of history?

It seems that public support of this Lookout was demonstrated by the extreem efforts taken to preserve it. Shame on Wilderness Watch!

Posted by:

rebadeba on Mar 29, 2012 07:33 PM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

This is a crying shame! Wilderness Watch is not making any friends with this, even in this state of tree huggers. I' disappointed in the ruling. Lookouts are a part of our forests as much as an old growth cedar.

Posted by:

Muledeer on Mar 29, 2012 08:51 PM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

Removing this is wrong. They are part of the history of the wilderness, and there are few enough left. Bad decision. I hope this is appealed.

Posted by:

BobH on Mar 29, 2012 11:47 PM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

The Olympic National Park lost a similar suit about a decade ago, because they "repaired" a decrepit trail shelter by flying it out, constructed a shelter off-site, and wanted to fly it back in. It never made it out of the storage yard.

The park learned from this error--they have since engaged in a rather extensive proactive campaign of repairing wilderness trail shelters on site, using traditional materials and traditional methods. These repairs have not been challenged.

I suggest the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie learn from their mistake as the ONP did. It is possible to maintain and repair existing wilderness lookouts on-site using traditional methods and materials, and non-motorized transport, particularly if actions are taken before the structure is far gone.

The Three Fingers lookout and Miners ridge lookout are obvious candidates for such an approach.

As for the current Green Mtn lookout, I do not mourn it. It is mostly a replica, not the original structure. New foundation, new decking, new siding,new roof, new framing. Plus a couple of solar panels.

Posted by:

Kevin Geraghty on Mar 30, 2012 12:28 AM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

While I am sympathetic to people who will miss the lookout, I think WTA should appreciate the fact that the courts are maintaining rigorous standards for wilderness protection. Just a few years ago, Rep. Richard Pombo was trying to sneak through legislation that would enable old mining claims in wilderness areas to be developed into resorts (seriously). Pombo is gone, but wilderness will always be under attack... and if we say the rules should only apply when we want them to, we're paving the way for wilderness-haters like Pombo.

And is it really so awful for a mountaintop to be unencumbered by a structure?

Posted by:

jason on Mar 30, 2012 09:33 AM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

I appreciate everyone's comments. Kevin and Jason, thanks for these thoughtful responses. WTA certainly doesn't want to see structures proliferate in wilderness, and Congressman Pombo's approach--or anything near it--is clearly unacceptable. I think it's a bit of a stretch to draw any comparison between the Green Mountain Lookout and his proposal, but I take your point.

I'm interested in the history of the Wilderness Act, and one fascinating point is the Eastern Wilderness Act of 1975, which included lands that did not meet the commonly accepted acreage and absence of roads and human impact standards that had previously been the frame for lands added to the Wilderness Preservation System. The notion was that Wilderness designation would allow these lands to return to a "primeval state", and that legislation has survived court challenge. There is all sorts of human history embedded in Wilderness, both pre-European settlement and post. I don't think it conflicts with the Wilderness Act to recognize that.

But, clearly, reasonable people can disagree reasonably.

Posted by:

Jonathan Guzzo on Mar 30, 2012 11:57 AM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

This has to be one of the stupidest things I have read about lately. This a a total misapplication of the law. I condemn Montana-Wilderness Watch for bring forth the law suit, it is a terrible waste of money for them to do so. It is none of their business what we do in Washington. It is a judgement by a judge not really appreciating the intention of the law or of historical significance of the the structure. I hope the case is appealed!

Posted by:

charlie on Apr 05, 2012 09:20 AM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

I was curious about the reasons for this as well. What I've read indicates that Wilderness Watch wants it removed because of a recent rebuild they feel encumbers the natural quality of the area.

Here's part of what the judge, Franklin Burgess wrote:
“Once the Olympic Wilderness was designated, a different perspective on the land is required…The [shelters] have collapsed under the natural effects of weather and time, and to reconstruct the shelters and place the replicas on the sites of the original shelters by means of a helicopter is in direct contradiction of the mandate to preserve the wilderness character of the Olympic Wilderness.”

He added, rather than providing shelters, “a different ‘feeling’ of wilderness is sought to be preserved for future generations to enjoy, a place ‘where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man’ and which retains ‘its primitive character and influence, without permanent improvements.’”

Here's a link to a Seattle-PI reporter's editorial against the removal:[…]-Don-t-mess-with-964733.php

Here's a link to an response to that editorial by Wilderness Watch Executive Director, George Nickas:

Posted by:

Eric on Apr 14, 2012 04:25 PM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

My question is who is going to fund the removal of the building? With all the budget cuts and lack of funding why aren't we concentrating on the things that REALLY matter?

Posted by:

JLManier on Apr 30, 2012 07:26 PM

Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout

Dear Wilderness Watch,

This is just a note to thank you for the good work you do with regards to many wilderness issues. I've gone all through your web site and support many of your causes and wish you well. Issues with dams, roads, the arctic, shooting wolves from helicopters, saving rivers etc are all noble causes. I'm as big an environmentalist as anyone but the one place you lose me is the removal of the Green Mountain Lookout Tower.

Did the Forest Service (who I do have many problems with) follow the letter of the law? No, they did not. The question I have is: does the removal of the Green Mountain Lookout enhance the wilderness? Some would say yes. I have been following this case since the first lawsuits were filed and it is obvious that the majority of the people here in the state of Washington say no. I hiked to lookouts with my Mom and Dad when I was younger and have in turn taken my kids to lookouts. To many of us, historic lookouts, including rebuilt ones, do nothing but enhance the environment. It is always exciting when on a trail to take that last bend, to look up and hear the explanations: There it is! Wow, Neat...That's cool!

For many people, young and old, hiking to a Lookout Tower only enhances their experiences, causing many to become more interested in the historical significance of such places as they realize that the Lookouts were there to help preserve the environment. A lookout tower, in many respects, opens up the wilderness to people and helps to foster an interest in the wilderness that might not otherwise be there.

To have total wilderness one could advocate banning or removing all structures, mining, horses, bikes, hunting, dogs, snowmobiling, skiing, summit registers, back country camping and people... Banning some of the aforementioned could be a good thing; however, people are always going to want to enjoy the wilderness. Balancing what is good for the environment and for wilderness with people's love for that same wilderness is always a difficult thing...

I go back to my question, "Does the removal of the Green Mountain Lookout enhance the wilderness?" One thing is sure: Not having a lookout on Green Mountain will certainly take away the excitement young people and others have upon reaching the summit and finding a historical structure (even if rebuilt off site) from which to enjoy the the wilderness and the views. Lookout sites are special places to many people as evidenced by the thousands of people who belong to various chapters of the Forest Fire Lookout Association across the country.

Is Wilderness Watch an advocate for the removal of all Lookouts in all wildernesses? The Montana based Wilderness Watch may win the removal of one single lookout in one state based on a legal technicality but what have they really gained? I know that they have gained the alienation of scores of wilderness lovers in Washington State and that is a shame. Saving larges tracts of land in the arctic and vast stretches of rivers are noble causes. Zeroing in on one single lookout site in the state of Washington is a colossal waste of money, time and energy. But in the end Wilderness Watch may say to the people of the state of Washington, "we won!" To that I would say to Wilderness Watch, "You really have no idea how much you have lost."

Posted by:

PeakJunkie on May 01, 2012 01:14 PM