Loggers, Miners and Lookouts?

This is one of those stories that makes you think there must be more to this than meets the eye.

Here’s a link to the AP story in the Seattle PI.

A Montana environmental group is suing the U.S. Forest Service over the construction of a new fire lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area northeast of Seattle.

The group, Wilderness Watch, claims in the federal lawsuit that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it built the new $50,000 lookout on Green Mountain in 2009. The building replaced a lookout built in the 1930s and long used for wilderness management and as a rest stop for hikers.

Wilderness Watch says the Forest Service didn’t study the environmental consequences before building the new lookout, and the use of a helicopter and power tools in the construction also violated the act. It wants the structure removed.

“It’s supposed to be free of structures, free of motor vehicle use,” said the group’s executive director, George Nickas. “Everybody wants it their way. The hikers don’t want the loggers or the miners or the off-road vehicle folks. You can’t expect your pet use to be OK, when the Wilderness Act is designed for us to step back and let it truly be a wild place.”

The Herald newspaper of Everett reports that the lawsuit has angered hiking groups in the region. They promote the history of fire lookouts in the region and believe the buildings help people appreciate the wilderness.

Forest Service personnel declined to comment, but longtime Glacier Peak Wilderness volunteers Mike and Ruth Hardy of south King County told the newspaper that the lawsuit threatens the work of those trying to preserve the history of the iconic fire lookouts. Scott Morris, a member of the Darrington Historical Society, agreed.

“I could sympathize with Wilderness Watch if every mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness were somehow threatened,” Morris said. “The purist zealotry of this group is going to harm appreciation of the wilderness. Shall we not walk in the wilderness anymore?”

I don’t understand a couple of things- why rehabbing a historic fire lookout is like “the loggers or the miners or the off-road vehicle folks” and why now, given the activities already happened. And also, I guess, in the overall scheme of things, why this issue is thought to deserve attention compared to other wilderness (current and future) issues.

Here’s Wilderness Watch’s story. Here’s the Forest Service story.

10 Comments

  1. Sharon,
    Sometimes one can read and fail to understand. Other times one can understand yet fail to accept.
    As a Planner with many years of relevant service, you seem to be suffering the latter.
    In the event I am mistaken, hopefully the following will be useful.

    Addressing your question, ‘why rehabbing a historic fire lookout is like “the loggers or the miners or the off-road vehicle folks”‘?
    First, your question should be directed to George Nickas who might point out you have completely reframed his quote, which he began with the intent of the Wilderness Act — not a comparison of competing interests.

    Addressing your question,”why now, given the activities already happened?”
    Redress of grievances after the fact is commonplace. Mr. Nickas might also point out you of all people, should understand when NEPA gets violated by USFS line officers in contravention of the Wilderness Act, those bedrock environmental laws are undermined unless the public defends them in court and forces the government to follow their own laws. By my cursory read, NEPA appears to have been violated, the USFS’ curious citation of the state’s Washington Wilderness Act of 1984 (?) notwithstanding.

    Independent judicial review of compliance with law, and adjudication of disputes is just the way the legal system, and democracy works.

    Reading the link to Wilderness Watch, and especially the reasoned discourse between Wilderness Watch and a member of the Forest Fire Lookout Association and veteran of 28 seasons, illuminates explanations which you, the Everett Herald, the AP and Seattle PI either preferred to avoid, or failed to accept.

    Addressing your question,”why this issue is thought to deserve attention…?”
    The articles you’ve picked in the Everett Herald and PI constitute pulp of little value, and as such, are overripe tomatoes perfectly suited for lobbing at those who act on well reasoned legal defense of environmental law. These issues are rarely understood by the public partly because news articles rarely bother explaining them to the public.

    That most newsrooms are controlled by for profit corporations and their staff writing for deadlines, soundbites, and an 8th grade level of comprehension, it comes as no surprise substantive content gets avoided. There’s more to this method though.

    Simplistic, facile reportage represents a classic “win-win” solution in corporate boardrooms. It’s great for perpetuating binary opposition and great for selling “news” to a dumbed-down public trained to attack on monosyllabic commands. The comment section of the Herald article provides all the evidence one needs to demonstrate this.

    Binary opposition is also particularly useful to those wielding Power, providing opportunities for advancing goals of deregulation, devolution, and market based solutions.

    Deregulation and re-regulation of existing environmental laws is not a new concept, but seems to be a central pillar of ‘A New Century of Forest Planning”. This is surprising, considering deregulation is at the center of our economic collapse, our real estate market collapse, our banking collapse, our collapse of diversity in media ownership, our health care collapse, our municipal government collapse, and of course, our environmental collapse (to name a few).

    There are many ways to set the stage for still more deregulation. Arguing that existing environmental law such as NEPA is not working because disputes of the law must be adjudicated is one way. But as Robert G. Dreher points out in “NEPA Under Siege”, ( I’ve listed in the Literature List of this blog), such legal disputes of NEPA occur as a tiny fraction of a percent (0.2%) of many tens of thousands of federal actions complying with NEPA annually.

    Another way to set the stage for deregulation is to insulate line officers from any personal or professional accountability for repeated infractions of NEPA. In the absence of accountability or deterrence, the stage is set for recidivist line officers to cast blame on citizen defense of environmental law. Indeed, many of these line officers are rewarded by being promoted to higher positions.

    For all the ink the corporate press has devoted to relatively rare instances of monkey-wrenching from the outside, this long-standing systematic monkey-wrenching from the inside — actively practiced within resource management agencies and Congress alike — is curiously ignored yet clearly designed to undermine the letter and intent of environmental law and facilitate not only environmental degradation, but public disaffection with “Big Government” and its regulations.

  2. Many wild places are not Congressionally designated “Wilderness” and not all “Wilderness” is particularly wild. Some serious and very real threats to both wild places and “Wilderness” include invasive species; air, light, and noise pollution; climate change; and potential development of private in-holdings. Wilderness Watch has chosen to allocate its staff time and members’ dollars to defending the purity and sanctity of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, consequently requiring Forest Service wilderness managers to allocate Federal resources and taxpayer dollars to defending their actions.

    Most of the wilderness advocates I have known seek designation of new Wilderness areas to protect wild places from threats such as road construction, power lines, dams, ski area development, or commercial timber harvest. None of these human activities currently threaten the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I’m not very familiar with the North Cascades but I’m guessing that some of the other threats that I listed do.

    For some, the battle has been won once a Wilderness designation is in place. As Aldo Leopold lamented though, those with specialized knowledge are cursed to look beyond the beautiful vistas and struggle not to despair that these areas are often degraded and threatened in so many ways.

    Sagebrush Rebels, or whatever they’re called these days, quietly celebrate when those would otherwise be working to protect public lands from their schemes to turn our shared wealth into private profit are distracted and diverted. All of these circumstances have conspired to turn me from an ardent proponent of Wilderness to a more pragmatic advocate for Congressional designations tailored to addressing the special circumstances of a place.

  3. David- First of all, I am not a planner. I am not ashamed to be associated with planners, but you may be antagonizing real planners by associating them with me.

    Second, I quoted Niklas according to what was reported. Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that the quote is correct.

    “It’s supposed to be free of structures, free of motor vehicle use,” said the group’s executive director, George Nickas. “Everybody wants it their way. The hikers don’t want the loggers or the miners or the off-road vehicle folks. You can’t expect your pet use to be OK, when the Wilderness Act is designed for us to step back and let it truly be a wild place.”

    My point was that existing structures that predate the wilderness designation are different from “loggers, miners and off road vehicles.” The structures preexist the wilderness designation. When the wilderness was designated, either in 1964 or when this piece was added, I assume the legislation did not say “when existing historic lookouts have naturally degenerated to the point that they are determined to be unsafe, they should be removed from the wilderness.”

    Also it appears that reasonable people could disagree about a specific historical feature, as the Wilderness Act definition of wilderness states

    (c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act 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 and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

    “other features of historic value” might conceivably include structures.
    a) So then we are on to the question of “how much of this is “reconstruction of a historic structure” or is it building a “new structure”?
    b) How much of this is about “how it was rebuilt (were power tools used, how much of the construction is new compared to original material)?
    c) How much of this is about “what was the right kind of NEPA to do it, or is reconstruction under an existing NEPA document or CE?” But I am thinking that might depend on your view of a and b above.

    I think the solution is to be more specific when new wilderness areas are established and write it into the legislation. If you have historic structures, you are/ are not allowed to preserve them. If preservation is allowed, you need to use x% original materials or from the same time period, and y% new materials. You are only allowed to use pre-1935 technologies to transport and reconstruct the structure. One might imagine a concerned group sitting down with the FS and trying to develop a general policy for historic structures in existing wilderness.

    I also think that people would be more supportive of this point of view if the FS were “caught in the act” and the case were brought before the funds to reconstruct the structure were spent. It seems like from the rhetoric, the idea is the punish the FS for its “bad behavior,” but we have to be careful of seeming to, instead, punish the innocent taxpayer by 1) requiring the FS to take on this litigation and/or 2) spending funds to take out the lookout.

    You said “Another way to set the stage for deregulation is to insulate line officers from any personal or professional accountability for repeated infractions of NEPA.” Yet the line officer (if, in fact, she/he behaved egregiously and not through a reasonable interpretation of the laws) won’t be punished by a court case. Some employee will be copying an administrative record. Some attorneys will be working on it. There will be series of conference calls. IF the case is won (if and only if) then the taxpayer will pay not only for all the copying, all the conference calls, all the attorney’s fees, all the EAJA fees, and to remove the structure (by mule and human effort). IF the case is lost, the taxpayer still pays for all the copying, all the conference calls, and all the attorneys on the government side.

    So I am questioning the direct connection between the desire to punish the guilty (if they are, in fact, guilty, which has not been determined) and the people who actually end up being punished by choosing this tactic.

    Again, my solution would be to initiate a public dialogue on a general policy approach to historic structures in wilderness.

    I am concerned that you seem to think that I am a proponent of deregulation, as in your statement:

    Deregulation and re-regulation of existing environmental laws is not a new concept, but seems to be a central pillar of ‘A New Century of Forest Planning”..

    This is a misstatement of my intent, as I have said numerous times. When the FS uses tactics, I think it is good that they are debated. We have free flowing debates on this blog about FS tactics and strategies. I believe we are all strengthened through respectful, honest dialogue and criticism. So I think ANY group’s tactics and strategies should be also open to dialogue and criticism, respectfully, here. That doesn’t make me against environmental laws any more than criticizing the OHV folks’ tactics on an issue makes someone against all use of OHV’s.

    More later..

  4. The legal issue here is straightforward and consistent with Wild Wilderness’ position. The Wilderness Act bars the Forest Service from building or maintaining structures in wilderness areas. High Sierra Hikers Ass’n v. United States Forest Serv., 436 F. Supp. 2d 1117 (E.D. Cal. 2006); Olympic Park Assocs. v. Mainella, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44230, 2005 WL 1871114 (D.Wash. 2005).

    The lookout’s “historic” status, if any, is irrelevant legally – the Wilderness Act bars man-made structures regardless of their provenance. Wilderness Watch v. Mainella, 375 F.3d 1085, 1092 (11th Cir. 2004)(“Congress wrote the wilderness rules and may create exceptions as it sees fit. Absent these explicit statutory instructions, however, the need to preserve historical structures may not be inferred from the Wilderness Act nor grafted onto its general purpose.”).

    The Wilderness Act does not require that existing structures in wilderness be torn down. Nor is that relevant here as the FS didn’t tear down the old structure; the agency replaced the old lookout with an entirely new structure. That the FS used helicopters is obviously offensive to wilderness purists, but of secondary concern. But for the improper decision to place a new lookout in the wilderness, the helicopter would not have been used. Nor is this lookout justifiable under the administrative use exemption to structures in wilderness as it is not used by the FS for administrative purposes.

    The wisdom of pursuing litigation after the horse has left the barn is a closer call, but not by much. If, as Wilderness Watch asserts, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF ignored NEPA when it replaced the lookout, how could Wilderness Watch or anyone else have known about the lookout or responded in a timely way? If the FS chose to tell only its cooperators and friends of its lookout replacement plans, that’s just as bad.

    Process matters — it is one of the features that distinguishes democracy from dictatorship. Protecting the integrity of democratic processes is as important as protecting the integrity of wilderness.

  5. David, you said
    “That most newsrooms are controlled by for profit corporations and their staff writing for deadlines, soundbites, and an 8th grade level of comprehension, it comes as no surprise substantive content gets avoided. There’s more to this method though.

    Simplistic, facile reportage represents a classic “win-win” solution in corporate boardrooms. It’s great for perpetuating binary opposition and great for selling “news” to a dumbed-down public trained to attack on monosyllabic commands. The comment section of the Herald article provides all the evidence one needs to demonstrate this.”

    I think I agree with you on the need for better quality representation of different sides of an issue. I would disagree with you (perhaps because members of my family are in the beleaguered journalism industry) on the cause. My experience has been that in the “old days” journalists had time to be experts on an issue. But due to the fact that the business side of newspapers (ads) have been made obsolete by the internet, we can no longer afford to pay people to investigate and uphold journalistic ethics. Of course, some journalists had a bias that came out in their reporting. After being involved with one project, one of my associates said “I’ll never believe anything I read in the press again.”

    So all of us face the same problem- what will replace this? What is our duty or responsibility to provide the public with a balanced and factual representation of the different points of view on a topic? For our own Forest Service issues, I hope this blog helps do it. I personally have learned a lot from people with different views on this blog. This leads to an idea along the lines of Allred’s “The Common Interest,” see new post above.

  6. Sharon,
    (I regret not having checked the box “Notify me of new posts…” and am glad I checked back. I appreciate this dialogue.)

    Your question, “What will replace (the ad-driven subsidies of print media’s journalism displaced by the internet era’s primacy of ad space?) is a good one.

    Fortunately, that niche for “expert” journalism elsewhere was quickly filled by nonprofit orgs and donation-driven, independent media on the internet. After all, those laid off reporters had to go somewhere. The most dedicated resumed pursuing their passion, and have been and will continue to be judged on the basis of their dedication to upholding journalistic ethics.

    I can’t agree with your appraisal “we can no longer afford to pay people to investigate and uphold journalistic ethics.” There are too many nonprofit org. examples to illustrate this is simply not the case. Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow! immediately comes to mind. An amazing array of local journalists are also being heard because of the internet.

    Journalistic ethics are not conditional to, nor inspired by, salary considerations. Most journalists I know and read regularly make a relatively modest living. If anything, I’ve noticed an inverse relationship of journalistic ethics and high-life salaries, but perhaps that’s because the rich and famous reporters are more visible when they fall from journalistic grace. Judith Miller immediately comes to mind, along with too many others of mainstream media to mention.

    That deregulation allowed corporate media consolidation which drove small newspapers either out of business or into leveraged buy-outs leaves little sympathy for those corporate magnates now fretting they can’t afford journalistic ethics.

    As Warren Buffett remarked on a similar corporate calamity that brought America to its knees:
    “It’s…poetic justice, in that the people that brewed this toxic Kool-Aid found themselves drinking a lot of it in the end.”

    At the center of this conundrum is not the transformation brought on by the internet. At the center of this is the gross disparities and fundamental incompatibilities of perverse corporate incentives in contrast to communities depending upon access to diversity of opinion, freedom of expression and the dissemination of information necessary to maintain democratic principles through an informed citizenry.

    Your question:”So all of us face the same problem- what will replace this?”

    Response: This site and the rest of the internet has replaced “this”. Yes, now more than ever we’re inundated with dumbfounding demonstrations of media bias, whether in print, TV, Radio, or on the internet.

    Fortunately, discriminating between bias and journalistic ethics is not rocket science.

    More importantly, we can now compare far many more different accounts of the same story with amazing ease, including access to international media and likely arrive more quickly, and far less expensively, at a fairly close appraisal of reality. The days of being spoon fed “truth” from a single or even a few sources, as far as I know, never really existed.

    For your associate who says, “I’ll never believe anything I read in the press again.”, after having a bad personal experience in a media project, it brings to mind this quote by Laurence Overmire:

    “Worse than apathy is defeatism. The defeatist recognizes the problem that the apathetic person doesn’t see, yet has convinced himself that there is nothing he can do and therefore washes his hands of all responsibility.”

    As citizens of a nominal democracy in an unmistakable death spiral — we have a responsibility to seek the truth. As citizens who have been robbed in broad daylight on Wall street — and because funding priorities are given to maintaining over 800 military bases strewn over the planet, instead of providing economic security at home, we all have a responsibility to seek the truth. Yep, citizens of a democracy get the government they deserve.

    Thank you for this forum and dialogue Sharon.

  7. I got the FEVER!

    “Worse than apathy is defeatism. The defeatist recognizes the problem that the apathetic person doesn’t see, yet has convinced himself that there is nothing he can do and therefore washes his hands of all responsibility.”

    Yep, those are my symptoms. It’s far easier to take the debate to Americans who haven’t closed their minds to the middle ground. /LURKMODE=ON

  8. David, I didn’t mean to impugn the journalistic ethics of those unaffiliated with newspapers. Some of you know I am big fans of your work.

    hat I meant by “journalistic ethics” can be found here.

    Seek Truth and Report It
    Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

    Journalists should:

    — Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
    — Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
    — Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
    — Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
    — Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
    — Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
    — Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
    — Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
    — Never plagiarize.
    — Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
    — Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
    — Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
    — Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
    — Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
    — Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
    — Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
    — Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

    These are a wonderful set of ethics, IMHO.

    My point was simply that I think it is easier to ensure quality in any endeavor when someone knows that someone else is watching them for quality and reviews their work. That role, and the ethics code above, are big shoes to fill for us part-time bloggers.

  9. Andy- I wholeheartedly agree with your quote/principle:

    Process matters — it is one of the features that distinguishes democracy from dictatorship. Protecting the integrity of democratic processes is as important as protecting the integrity of wilderness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>