Montana Environmental Group Sues Over Washington Fire Lookout

By Beacon Staff

DARRINGTON – A Montana environmental group is suing the U.S. Forest Service over the construction of a new fire lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area northeast of Seattle.

The group, Wilderness Watch, claims in the federal lawsuit that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it built the new $50,000 lookout on Green Mountain in 2009. The building replaced a lookout built in the 1930s and long used for wilderness management and as a rest stop for hikers.

Wilderness Watch says the Forest Service didn’t study the environmental consequences before building the new lookout, and the use of a helicopter and power tools in the construction also violated the act. It wants the structure removed.

“It’s supposed to be free of structures, free of motor vehicle use,” said the group’s executive director, George Nickas. “Everybody wants it their way. The hikers don’t want the loggers or the miners or the off-road vehicle folks. You can’t expect your pet use to be OK, when the Wilderness Act is designed for us to step back and let it truly be a wild place.”

The Herald newspaper of Everett reports that the lawsuit has angered hiking groups in the region. They promote the history of fire lookouts in the region and believe the buildings help people appreciate the wilderness.

Forest Service personnel declined to comment, but longtime Glacier Peak Wilderness volunteers Mike and Ruth Hardy of south King County told the newspaper that the lawsuit threatens the work of those trying to preserve the history of the iconic fire lookouts. Scott Morris, a member of the Darrington Historical Society, agreed.

“I could sympathize with Wilderness Watch if every mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness were somehow threatened,” Morris said. “The purist zealotry of this group is going to harm appreciation of the wilderness. Shall we not walk in the wilderness anymore?”

Darrington Ranger District wilderness and trails coordinator Gary Paull said the Green Mountain Lookout is used by paid staff and volunteers to manage the wilderness. The lookout has not been formally used for fire detection since the late 1980s, but volunteers often are able to report lightning strikes from the lookout.

Green Mountain has been a radio-relay position for restoration crews working to repair trails in the national forest.

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