Smokey, spare that lookout — Washington lawmakers to Forest Service

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

The Green Mountain Lookout should be let stand in its present perch, atop a popular Snohomish County hiking trail, and not be moved or removed, according to a tough-worded letter sent to the U.S. Forest Service by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.

“We strongly oppose the removal of the Green Mountain Lookout from its historic home,” lawmakers told the federal agency.  “Smokey Bear” is struggling with what to do after a federal judge’s ruling that the federal agency acted improperly in rebuilding the 1933-vintage fire lookout.

The lookout, located within the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area, has become a battleground that pits an extreme green group from out-of-state against local recreation activists, historic preservationists, county officials and lawmakers.

Murray, Cantwell, Larsen and DelBene have introduced the Green Mountain Heritage Protection Act, which would have the effect of overturning a ruling by U.S. District Judge Jack Coughenour that the lookout be moved or removed from its 6,500-foot-high perch at the end of a popular hiking trail.

The legislation would allow regular maintenance of the Green Mountain Lookout and would prohibit the Forest Service from moving the lookout unless it is necessary to preserve it or ensure the safety of individuals nearby.

A Montana-based group, Wilderness Watch, sued on grounds that the Forest Service used helicopters and did not follow provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it decided to rebuild the lookout.  The lookout was built 35 years before the North Cascades Act, which created the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.

Judge Coughenour agreed.  He also determined that the cash-strapped Forest Service should pay $70,804 in legal fees to the Oregon-based Western Environmental Law Center, which represented Wilderness Watch.  Peter M.K. Frost, lead attorney in the case, was ordered compensated at a rate of $425-an-hour.

The Forest Service has suggested moving the lookout to Circle Peak, a far less scenic and popular spot.  (Green Mountain is not a place where people go for solitude.  At least when the access road is open, its fields of glacier lilies and 360-degree summit views draw droves of day hikers.)

But Murray, Larsen, DelBene and Cantwell want the lookout to stay right where it is.

“The lookout is an important part of our region, and reflects a unique and rare part of the Pacific Northwest’s heritage,” they wrote.  “The protection of this historic lookout has garnered support from local governments, non-governmental organizations and many of our constituents.”

The lawmakers also noted that moving the lookout would amount to a big expense for the Forest Service.  The agency hasn’t been able to afford repairs to recreation facilities damaged in a late fall storm nearly a decade ago.  It relies on volunteer help to maintain hiking trails.