Ana Maria Spagna’s piece “Cabin Fever” (see Writers on the Range, July 7, 2011) profoundly missed the mark. While the author may dislike Wilderness Watch’s work to protect the Glacier Peak Wilderness by taking the Forest Service to court over this unlawfully built replica, her opinions and emotional attachment to the structure don’t change the facts surrounding its construction and history (or lack thereof).
Putting aside for the moment the fact that the Wilderness Act prohibits the construction or reconstruction of non-essential buildings in wilderness, the Forest Service dealt history the deathblow in 2002 when it tore down what remained of the original hand-built and mule-hauled Green Mountain lookout constructed in 1933. What’s now standing at the top of Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington is a new structure built in 2009 that was helicoptered in, not packed on mules; supported by concrete footings rather than native stones; assembled with power tools, not hand saws and hammers; and built without any public notice or environmental analysis. Its construction is a testament to modern engineering and transportation technology rather than the pioneering wilderness skills by which the original lookout was hewn. To be sure, the agency re-used some of the original materials and the “cabin” looks like many old lookouts, but to equate the historic value of this new building to the original is akin to placing a grizzly from the taxidermist’s shop in the forest and pretending it to be the living, breathing, wilderness beast that once roamed there. No proper “hoops were hopped,” as Ms. Spagna likes to say, likely because the agency knew it would be breaking the law and preferred not to announce the fact in advance.
Wilderness Watch’s lawsuit seeks to restore the wilderness character of the Glacier Peak Wilderness by returning Green Mountain to its natural condition. To claim the basis of the lawsuit is the use of helicopters disregards too many important facts. It’s not the “offense of hearing a helicopter” that deserves a lawsuit, but rather the Forest Service’s disregard for the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and the resulting harm done to the 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 setting wilderness apart from all other public lands “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”
As “increasing populations accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization” spread across the whole of North America, the Wilderness Act protects extraordinary places like the Glacier Peak Wilderness so future generations can know wild, unsettled and undeveloped lands.