“The more time I have by myself, the more I love our world.”
It’s a lonely job, but someone’s got to do it. Lief Haugen has spent every summer since 1994 as a fire lookout in a remote outpost of Montana’s Flathead National Forest. Filmmaker Brian Bolster profiles Lief’s day to day life alone on top of a mountain.
“To be a lookout, you really have to love solitary time by yourself,” he says. “This is a reminder of keeping it simple. It’s just me and this place and the work.”
Haugen’s days on the mountain are busy. His tasks, while routine, are solitary – including maintaining the lookout, checking in on the radio twice daily, reporting weather conditions, greeting the occasional visitor and, most importantly, scanning the landscape for signs of fire.
In the event of a fire, Haugen takes to his maps, radio, binoculars, and the Osborne Fire Finder, which helps him provide incredibly accurate, up to the minute coordinates. Haugen assists those fighting the blaze by providing information on fire location and safe routes of passage for up to 16 hours a day.
In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed more than 5,000 watchtowers across the country. But due to advances in satellite and imaging technology, many lookout jobs have been eliminated.
“Some places don’t use lookouts anymore, they choose to use technologies… but when my boss goes home at night, all it takes is a phone call.. if there’s something they need to know about. Those technologies are not going to handle that… There’s 500 of us in the west right now, and we’re still here doing the work when people are thinking other things are gonna replace us.”
While the work can be tiresome, the perks are unbeatable. “It’s a great way to spend the summer,” Haugen says. “There aren’t a lot of choices, but all of the choices are things I enjoy doing: walking, reading, writing, carpentry and taking a good long look around.”
Waking up each morning to the incredible landscapes of the Flathead National Forest, you can imagine why Lief keeps coming back, year after year.