Outlook for lookout dimmed by political perspectives

By Tom Bacon

Pitched battles in Congress over money or policies are routine, even expected. But a political brawl over an old, abandoned fire lookout tower in the Washington Cascades is a bit unusual. Most of the Washington congressional delegation wanted to save the old Green Mountain Lookout, leave it where it is in the Glacier Peak Wilderness area. Most, but not all.

The old lookout was in danger of being dismantled under a court order because the US Forest Service used motorized equipment to repair it several years ago. That irked strict conservationists who argued that the repair work was illegal in wilderness areas. But the state's lawmakers in the Senate and a couple in the US House wrote bills to carve out an exemption for the more than century old structure to leave it where it is.

The Senate bill had smooth sailing. But in the House, a bill written by Democrats Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene had to pass vetting by House Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings, a Republican. Rather than approve the separate bill, Hastings had his committee combine it with several other measures, such as an attempt to loosen off-road vehicle use, grazing rights and other unrelated political issues.

The package then passed the House, but put delBene and Larsen in the uncomfortable position of having to vote against their own measure. As DelBene put it in a floor speech, "the way this legislation was handled is emblematic of the dysfunction that's so prevalent and so unnecessary."

The omnibus bill is believed to be dead on arrival in the Senate.

Unless a compromise can be worked out, the old Green Mountain Lookout may be dismantled. The irony is, the demolition would probably be carried out with the use of a helicopter - a violation of the Wilderness Act.
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