The following was submitted by Wilderness Watch to the Everett Herald and explains why the Glacier Peak Wilderness suit is necessary to protect the Wilderness:
New Green Mountain “Lookout” doesn’t belong in Wilderness
By George Nickas
The Everett Herald (1/15) recently reported on Wilderness Watch’s (WW) lawsuit challenging the Forest Service (FS) for building a new structure on Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Here’s why wilderness advocates believe the litigation was necessary and why it will succeed.
The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as “an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The Act also states, “there shall be…no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft…and no structure or installation” within Wilderness.
By building this new structure on Green Mountain and using helicopters to transport materials and workers to the site, the Forest Service’s actions have violated these fundamental tenets of Wilderness law. By failing to notify the public of its plans or conduct any environmental review of the project, the Forest Service also violated the bedrock requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
It is because of these violations of law and the need to restore the wilderness character of the Glacier Peak Wilderness that Wilderness Watch has taken the Forest Service to court.
The article quoted some supporters of the structure who suggested since the new building looks like the old one, it preserves the history of Green Mountain and the Forest Service should be allowed to reconstruct or replace it. This reasoning echoes those who wanted to reconstruct “historic” dams in the Emigrant Wilderness in the High Sierra, who supported replacing historic trail shelters with replica pre-fabs in the Olympic Wilderness, and who sought to continue vehicle tours to view historic structures on the eastern seaboard’s Cumberland Island 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 the face of “increasing populations accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization” spread across the whole of North America, the Wilderness Act separates out extraordinary places like the Glacier Peak Wilderness where future generations can experience wild, unsettled, and undeveloped lands.
The Forest Service argues that the lookout is used “to manage the wilderness and make sure that no one is committing violations of the wilderness act,” when in fact it’s the agency that has violated the law.
The proper thing for the agency to do is take down the structure unlawfully built in the Wilderness and use it to replace one of the dozens of other lookouts outside Wilderness and in need of repair. The structure can be enjoyed and the Wilderness preserved.
In overturning the Park Service’s 2003 decision to replace two collapsed historic trail shelters in the Olympic Wilderness, federal 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.’”
It is this perspective—a commitment to both the spirit and the letter of the Wilderness Act—that Wilderness Watch’s lawsuit seeks to uphold.
George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch, a national organization dedicated to the protection of the lands and waters in the National Wilderness Preservation System. http://www.wildernesswatch.org
Thanks you for your hard work. I really appreciate the values that you fight for in court. I would just like to add that some people have become cynical because they feel lawyers will file any suit just to advance an agenda. For example, the lawsuit concerning the Green Mountain Lookout in Washington State filed on your behalf.
That type of lawsuit only hurts those of us who care deeply about our wild lands while improving very little. I have hiked the 18 miles and 3,000 vertical feet one-way to the shelter because I love the North Cascades. I would guess less than 50 people visit the site on a yearly basis since the road washed out in 2006. The shelter doesn't harm the environment in any noticeable way. There is no pollution/contaminants and it's footprint is very small.
The problem is that most of us who visit these places are on the same page and try to act as responsible land stewards. Many of us try to help others enjoy wilderness by getting them out into it so they know how valuable it is. How is a child from the city supposed to know the value of wilderness if they are unable to see it firsthand? I want the public to know for themselves just how valuable and beautful the mountains are, otherwise there is no basis for preservation other than a law. We need the public to support our cause!
Yet, lawyers from outside the area file suits and make access even more dificult. Combine that with a poorly funded Forest Service and you end up with a public that is unable to access and enjoy our wilderness lands.