I have been a lookout for 28 seasons in three wilderness areas and one primitive area. I love the wilderness and try my best to leave it untrammeled and to educate any who will listen about all the benefits of wilderness. I know many other lookouts - in and out of the wilderness - who are kindred spirits. To be honest, I have often grappled with the propriety of lookouts in such places - hell, I wonder about my mere presence there at times. Biased as I may be, I've come to the conclusion that lookouts - actual function and structure - do more good than harm regarding wilderness.
And I know that that is what Wilderness Watch's goal is, too. But you should know that your words - however well-intentioned - may have unintended consequences. I belong to the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) and just received our quarterly publication. On the cover I read, "Wilderness Watch organization targets lookouts." The article mentions your opposition to Green Mountain LO and associates the delay in restoring Heaven's Peak LO in Glacier. As the FFLA's chief goal is to maintain and restore lookouts, your article was seen as unnecessarily adversarial, priority-challenged and mercenary (a fundraising cry). Please consider the alienation of a group that would otherwise be most pleasantly disposed toward your mission and organization.
This is particularly true with those of us trying to "guard" the wilderness against increasingly aggressive ATV users and entitled outfitters.
Aren't we on the same team?
Mark S. Moak
First, a thank-you to Mark for taking the time to write such a respectful, knowledgeable response. We can imagine a lot of people who have met him in wilderness have learned a lot about humility, a key ingredient of wilderness. And “good on you” for your work opposing ATV incursions and addressing damage caused by outfitters’ overuse. In these instances we are on the same team.
But we have to take issue with Mark’s defense of a new building. It’s no longer a lookout, and it was built with helicopters and mechanized equipment within designated wilderness.
The Forest Service built the original Green Mountain Lookout around 1933 and abandoned it in the late 1970s. By 2002, the whole structure was unsafe and removed from the Wilderness. In 2009, without the public process called for by the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency built the structure in the approximate location of the old lookout.
It is Wilderness Watch’s mission to keep designated wilderness wild. We believe government works best when citizens actively participate, when they read the planning documents, invest the time in commenting during comment periods, and get involved early so everyone deals with the issues. But here, with this new steel-reinforced structure built in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness, there was no ability to do so because Forest Service officials chose a sneaky, hidden, and unlawful process. We know this because, at the same time the agency was building this building, we were working with the forest supervisor very openly on a proposed bridge in another part of the same wilderness!
Nowhere does the Wilderness Act give priority to maintaining or rebuilding historic structures, much less doing so with new materials, gasoline generators, power tools, and freight helicopters.
Wilderness Watch has absolutely no problem with the construction or reconstruction of historic lookouts or other buildings on other public lands. National Forests or recreation lands are fine places for honoring the agency’s past. But, after decades of debate, dozens of rewrites, public hearings, and significant compromise, our representatives in Congress overwhelmingly voted in 1964 to make wilderness different. They passed the Wilderness Act to designate wilderness with our highest protections and restrictions on both visitors and managers.
In a metaphysical sense – and we have a feeling Mark would agree here – our 110 million acres of designated wilderness represent our sacred lands, where we know in our hearts we are not in control or exert dominion but are a part of all living and non-living things.
The actions of the forest supervisor in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness is one of many instances happening right now where agencies are degrading wilderness by refusing to abide by the rigorous, standards called for in the law. They take a helicopter into wilderness to put plywood over the door of an abandoned cabin, to transport trail crews into wilderness to work, to remove debris from the spillway of a dam, to do research or routine work. But we can’t have wilderness without doing the hard things called for in the Wilderness Act. We don’t want to end up with every acre tamed and managed, wilderness only in name.
For some people it’s sad to see old lookouts, cabins, bridges, corrals, and other evidence of human civilization melt back into nature, but that’s what “untrammeled” wilderness is. The Forest Fire Lookout Association is free to ask Congress to amend the Wilderness Act so these human-built structures have equal weight with nature’s evolution. We wouldn’t be on their team for that effort, nor would the majority of the American people. In the meantime, Wilderness Watch will shine the brightest light possible on public officials who ignore the law and degrade the wilderness character of these lands.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. You've convinced me on the Green Mountain issue (any comment on Heaven's Peak?). We lookouts can get a bit sensitive and defensive at times, living in isolation with few human references for feedback. We have also seen the often spontaneous destruction of many of these useful, historic structures under the guise of liability at the hands of overzealous forest officials. Many lookouts, like Heaven's Peak, beautifully relate to their environment and document with their presence the history - and not a reconstructed one - of our nation's relationship with the land.
My primary job as a wilderness lookout has evolved from "Smokey's little helper" in destroying the demon, Fire, to that of a monitor for wildland use fires, a role that is integral in helping to bring Fire back to its natural and rightful place into the ecosystem.
And it is the land, in all its natural grandeur, that wilderness lookouts were meant to watch over. The land, all that resides there, is more important. I agree, Wilderness is sacred in the fullness of that word... there is no higher designation we have to offer... and encroachment happens almost as much from within, than without.
But my main concern in this particular situation is that in the fight to protect our wilderness, we try to maintain as many friends as we can. It will take all of our efforts to do so.
I will write a letter to the FFLA regarding its perhaps overly reactionary article. Would you be so kind to do the same? I think it would be a total surprise and would foster, I hope, a spirit of understanding and maybe cooperation. Gary Weber is the editor and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your write-up on the Green Mountain Lookout RESTORATION is a biased commentary on both the preservation of a registered historic structure and the Wilderness Act itself.
Your lawsuit is diverting time and money from trail maintenance budgets, backcountry staffing and other recreation.
This is a very poor choice on the part of WW.
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First of all, that lookout is more than a day's hike to get to, as the Suiattle River road is washed out, and will most likely not ever get rebuilt. Last year, there was a TOTAL of 68 hikers that made the 24+ mile hike to even GET to the peak of 6500' Green Mountain. I agree that the structure was rebuilt illegaly, but to now waste more resources to get another helicopter to tear it down is ludicrous. For the measly amount of people who are visiting this site, is is egregious to attack this lookout tower. I do agree with you that there are other LO's that do need dismantaling, but this is not one of them. So happy for you that another lifetime appointed judge has ruled in your decision, but this was one of the structures that topped the list of Washington State's endangered historic properties and thanks to you, our history is gone. What if a spotted owl decided to nest in there? Someone should have stuck an indian artifact in it, and then see how fast you are willing to have torn it down...For once, you have gone too far.
I think it is an absolutely beautiful structure, and kept very much to its historical beginnings.
It would truly be a shame to tear it down, and I am sure would cause for more damage than leaving it. ....
[...] management activities in designated wilderness areas, viewed the repair work as illegal. In a blog post the group called the action an “egregious breach of wilderness ethics and law” and described [...]
I loved this place as a child and have always enjoyed it. The forest service and local groups spent a lot of time and effort (not to mention money) to keep this structure safe for hikers. Now, thanks to you goofs this lookout is in danger of extinction! How are my grandkids going to enjoy the history I did as a child? Can't you people find some better way to consume your time, like volunteering at a local food bank or homeless shelter? Perhaps the most irritating fact is that you don’t even live in Washington. You and your kids will probably never visit this icon. So there you sit in another State fouling up other people’s places of interest. You people will ultimately try to conclude it is a violation of the Wilderness Act if one farts out of context I suppose. I have only on conclusion… You're nuts! Get a REAL life!