Washington: St. Helens to be kept as underfunded USFS monument, no national park status?

Squandered opportunity comes to mind this week when a group analyzing the future of Mount St. Helens failed to go the distance. The task  force representing Washington’s Cowlitz, Lewis and Skamania counties  was deep and studious, and came tantalizingly close. But it failed to  recommend that Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument become a  national park.

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Today, nearly 30 years after Mount St. Helens big eruption, an
advisory committee will begin drafting its recommendations for the
mountain’s future, including whether to pursue conversion to a
national park. U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, one of four Washington Democrats
who chartered the committee a year ago, says he’s not prejudging the

There are good reasons for keeping control under the Forest
Service. The agency has managed the mountain for a century, building
strong relationships with scientists, volunteers and surrounding
communities. Elk hunters, snowmobilers and other monument users worry
that a national park would freeze them out. Conservationists fear it
could spark too much development in nearby forests. But the Forest
Service’s closure of the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center in 2007 has
become “the symbol of perpetual funding inadequacy,” Baird said.

“That has to change,” he said, “one way or the other.” Congress established
the monument in 1982, two years after the eruption. Funding increased
through 1998, when the mountain had three year-round visitor centers.
About the same time, the Forest Service’s firefighting budget started
to grow. Since 2002, the service’s spending on fire suppression has
nearly quadrupled. Recreation expenditures dropped 3 percent.

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