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Press Release of Senator Cantwell
Cantwell Asks Forest Service for Plan to Protect Mount St. Helens
Members Praise Work of Monument Staff, But Express Concerns About Public Access and Long-Term Protection
Thursday, July 26,2007
WASHINGTON, DC – Wednesday, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) along with Congressmen Norm Dicks (D-WA), and Brian Baird (D-WA) sent a letter to Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey asking the U.S. Forest Service to explain how it plans to protect Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument while expanding the visitor services and recreational opportunities.
In April, following the Forest Service announcement that a Mount St. Helens visitor center would be shut down because of budget constraints, Cantwell said it was time to take a look at elevating the monument to National Park status.
“While we believe Monument staff does a superb job with the resources and direction…, we remain concerned about the public access to and long-term protection of the Monument,” wrote Cantwell and her colleagues. “Given this funding reality, we are interested in learning more about the Forest Service’s plan at Mount St. Helens and how it expects to protect and expand necessary visitor services and appropriate recreational opportunities while protecting monument resources and wildlife.”
The Forest Service decided to close the visitor center and transfer visitor services because of a $13 million maintenance backlog, but the Forest Service is asking for less money to address this backlog. Forest Service budget requests for the region have decreased from $7.9 million for FY 2004 to under $860,000 for FY 2008, a nearly 90 percent decrease.
Other active volcanoes in the United States, including Mauna Loa in Hawaii, are currently operated by the Park Service. Cantwell first raised the possibility of elevating the monument to National Park status last summer during the confirmation hearings of now-Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.
[The text of the letter follows below]
July 25, 2007
The Honorable Mark Rey
Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Rey:
Thousands of Americans each year visit the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to see the stunning effects of the 1980 eruption. This unique destination showcases the eruption’s dramatic aftermath, and lets visitors see returning plants and animals firsthand.
Unfortunately, in the face of maintenance backlogs and budget constraints, the Forest Service has recently announced plans to scale back visitor center operations at the Monument, including plans to close the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center during 2008. Yet, Administration budget requests for Region 6 programs that support the Monument have seen steady decreases since FY 2001. Budget requests for Recreation, Wilderness and Heritage for Region 6 have decreased from $28.5 million for FY 2003 to under $19 million for FY 2008, a 35% decrease. Budget requests for Capital Improvements for Trails for Region 6 have decreased from $10 million in FY 2004 to $7 million in FY 2008, a 30% decrease. More than $13 million in deferred maintenance has been identified at the Monument, which apparently precipitated the Forest Service’s plans to scale back visitor center operations at the Monument. Yet, budget requests for Deferred Maintenance for Region 6 have decreased from $7.9 million for FY 2004 to under $860,000 for FY 2008, a nearly 90% decrease.
While we believe Monument staff does a superb job with the resources and direction provided to them from the Forest Service Washington D.C. Office, we remain concerned about the public access to and long-term protection of the Monument. Over the past several years, Mount St. Helens funding has fallen from its high in 1998 of approximately $3 million to approximately $1.65 million today. At no fault of the Monument personnel, reduced budgets required the closing or transfer of public visitor centers, information stations and campgrounds. It’s also meant public services such as the eastside interpretive program are at continual risk of elimination. Reduced budget requests and funding decreases can also threaten the very resources and wildlife the Forest Service is charged with protecting.
Given this funding reality, we are interested in learning more about the Forest Service’s plan at Mount St. Helens and how it expects to protect and expand necessary visitor services and appropriate recreational opportunities while protecting monument resources and wildlife.
Currently, visitors pay an $8 fee to access Monument visitor centers and services. A party of four adults would pay $32 to access these resources. By comparison, the same party would pay only $25 to access Mount Rainier.
· In light of reduced budget requests, what is the Forest Service’s plan to protect and expand visitor services at Mt. St. Helens?
· Has the Forest Service conducted any studies on the cost of the monument pass and its impact upon visitation? If so, what was the conclusion?
· The Gifford Pinchot National Forest reports that there were roughly 1.8 million Forest visits in 2007. How does the forest service count Forest and Monument visits? How does the USFS plan to maintain this visitation level?
· How does the USFS gauge Monument visitors’ satisfaction? What are the current trends for visitor satisfaction? How does the USFS plan to maintain a high level of visitor satisfaction?
Mount St. Helensoffers several recreational opportunities for visitors to experience the mountain. From hiking to climbing to mountain biking, visitors to Mt. St. Helens take in one of the Northwest’s most stunning landscapes.
· In light of reduced budget requests, what is the Forest Service’s plan to protect and expand recreational opportunities at Mt. St. Helens?
· How many climbing permits are issued each year? Would additional resources ensure the expansion of popular activities such as hiking and climbing?
After the 1980 eruption, plants and animals endured hardship and harsh conditions. Within weeks of the eruption, signs of life literally sprouted through the layers of destruction. As forests were replanted and vegetation again took root, the wildlife also began to return. Roosevelt elk and Columbia black-tailed deer, for example, along with small birds and mammals, reestablished their habitats. Today the area is a testament to the enduring circle of life, as green hills surround the crater, and blue waters flow through the valley once again.
· What plans does the USFS have to return species to the forest, as well as ensure viable plant and wildlife populations?
· What resources does the Monument have to manage area wildlife?
· What is the USFS doing to maintain high air and water quality?
We are sure you would agree that protecting Mount St. Helens’ resources while providing high-quality public services and facilities must be a top priority. Whatever the outcome of this analysis, we look forward to working with the Forest Service to ensure the long-term protection of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for both present and future generations.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and questions. We look forward to receiving your response.
Senators Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and Congressmen Norm Dicks and Brian Baird.