Leecher Mountain

Leecher Mountain elevation 5,008 feet, is 10 miles southeast of Twisp, WA, in the Methow Valley. It can be reached from county road 1703, Benson Creek, which becomes Forest Road 4150. 

Leecher Mountain is one of those lucky lookouts that is still around, and in fact is staffed at least some of the time.  The tower and the cabin are very well maintained.  I first visited in 2010, when the late Mort Banasky was operating the station.  Mort was a character, and unlike many lookouts was not at all pleased when I showed up.  More recently, Lightning Bill Austin, and his dog Thunder had to be evacuated off the lookout by helicopter during Carlton Complex Fire in 2014.  

The set of panoramas at Leecher Mountain is unique because they form a record of what the forest looked like historically, how it changed during eighty-one years of effective fire suppression, and how it looked after Carlton Complex Fire.  Leecher Mountain overlooks dry forest (ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir), which is typical at the lower elevations east of the Cascades Range.  Historically, this was very open forest, kept that way by frequent low intensity fires.   In the absence of fires, the forest spread out and densified, and then one day in 2014, burned like it never had before.  

 Top Photo Willam B. Osborne 1930, from National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle, WA.  Middle Photo 2011 by John F Marshall funded by Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Wenatchee Forestry Sciences Lab of Pacific NW Research Station.  Bottom Photo 2015 by John F Marshal, funded Washington Department of Natural Resources.  

Top Photo Willam B. Osborne 1930, from National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle, WA.  Middle Photo 2011 by John F Marshall funded by Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Wenatchee Forestry Sciences Lab of Pacific NW Research Station.  Bottom Photo 2015 by John F Marshal, funded Washington Department of Natural Resources.  

 1930 Photo from National Archives

1930 Photo from National Archives

 2011 Photo by John F Marshall

2011 Photo by John F Marshall

 2015 Photo John F Marshall   

2015 Photo John F Marshall

 

Carlton Complex Fire hit Okanogan County hard in 2014, resulting in many complaints about the handling of the fire by suppression forces.  No doubt mistakes were made and opportunities lost, but the far bigger question, is why did we allow the landscape to drift into a condition where it became so flammable, and why did we build houses and landscape around them, without a thought about wildfire?  Better yet, how might we do better?  Weather added to the accumulated fuels, made Carlton Complex a nearly one million acre fire.   Areas that historically, might have burned every five to fifteen years, had not burned in seventy-five to one hundred years.  Under moderate weather conditions we can beat back fire with suppression forces in spite of the fuels, but when humidity is below ten percent, the temperature is 100 degrees F. and the wind blows day and night, we can't win.  By being successful at putting out fires burning under moderate conditions we have inadvertently assigned it to happen at the worst time, with the worst outcome for both humans and nature. 

 Destruction from Carlton Complex Fire in the French Creek area of the Methow Valley, WA.   Copyright 2014 John F Marshall

Destruction from Carlton Complex Fire in the French Creek area of the Methow Valley, WA.   Copyright 2014 John F Marshall

 Leecher Mountain Lookout in 2010.  

Leecher Mountain Lookout in 2010.