Written by Brian Turner, San Francisco Field Office
Amid the devastation following a landslide near the rural town of Darrington, Washington, President Obama has signed a bill into law to save the threatened Green Mountain fire lookout, an emblem of the region's heritage.
On April 3, U.S. Senator Patty Murray offered moving testimony regarding the importance of the site to the affected community:
As Sen. Murray put it, "[Green Mountain Lookout is] a place where parents have brought their kids for generations to appreciate the splendor of the great outdoors in the Northwest. And it's a place that has been a vital source of tourism-related income for the people who've been impacted by this deadly landslide that has struck this region."
The bill passed without a word of dissent in the Senate on April 3. The House followed suit on April 7, passing the bill unanimously by voice vote. The President signed it into law on April 15.
The fate of the historic Lookout, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, had been in flux for two years following a court ruling ordering the U.S. Forest Service to remove it from the Glacier Peak Wilderness. The judge found that the Forest Service made a procedural error in its efforts to preserve the structure. He ordered the lookout's removal to remedy the error.
The ruling frustrated preservation advocates and most conservation groups. And it caused outrage in Darrington, where local volunteers had logged thousands of hours assisting in the building's preservation. The new law, strongly supported by the National Trust, eliminates the need for a costly deconstruction and removal process, which would have had the ironic effect of further harming wilderness values.
Specifically, the law clarifies that the legal authority governing the Green Mountain lookout allows for the continued maintenance and operation of the site. It also implies that Congress did not direct the Forest Service to stop caring for historic properties when it passed the 1984 wilderness law to designate the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
The landslide along Route 530, about 50 miles east of Seattle as the crow flies, is the primary route connecting Darrington to Arlington. More than 30 residents lost their lives, and many are still missing at the time of this writing.
Scott Morris, a volunteer with the Darrington Historical Society, has been a major local champion of the bill. While assisting with the landslide recovery effort from the local firehouse, he told me that the bill's passage is welcome good news for the affected community.
Read a previous blog post recounting the author's backpacking trip to the Green Mountain Lookout with accompanying pictures of its stunning setting in the Cascades.