Congress to hear input on Mount St. Helens management

By:  Erik Robinson
Source: High Beam Research

Almost 30 years after Mount St. Helens radically altered the surrounding landscape in a matter of minutes, three members of Congress will take suggestions about how the area around the volcano ought to be managed.

U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray will join Rep. Brian Baird on April 13 for a teleconference with a local advisory committee delivering its final land-use recommendations.

The congressional representatives commissioned the Mount St. Helens Advisory Committee more than two years ago, after the cash-strapped U.S. Forest Service permanently closed the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center just 14 years after it opened as an $11.5 million state-of-the-art visitor attraction. At the time, Cantwell called for the National Park Service to take over management of the national volcanic monument.

Cantwell backed off that assertion and instead worked with Murray, Baird and Rep. Norm Dicks to form an advisory committee.

Made up of a cross section of elected officials, recreationists, scientists and residents, the 14-member committee began meeting in March 2008. It met periodically afterwards and a year ago issued a set of draft recommendations leaving future management of the 110,000-acre monument to the Forest Service. (Two members of the committee, from Cowlitz County, issued a “minority report” calling for a Park Service takeover.)

The draft recommendations also included an ambitious wish list ranging from a new highway extension north to Randle; overnight accommodations at Coldwater; and unspecified destination resorts in and around the monument.

Baird, Murray and Cantwell had planned to meet with the committee in August in Longview, but the event was scuttled by security concerns.

Instead, the group will meet next week at Lower Columbia College in Longview, with Baird, Cantwell and Murray beamed in by video teleconference.

The committee’s review marks the first comprehensive examination of the volcano’s place in Southwest Washington’s social, ecological and economic landscape since 1982, when then-President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Former U.S. Rep. Don Bonker, who represented the area at the time, said in a recent interview that it made sense to put the Forest Service in charge of the new monument.

Bonker noted that the surrounding area already was part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and, at least at that time, the Forest Service was better funded than the National Park Service. The Forest Service was flush with cash from a robust timber sale program, an activity that has slowed considerably in recent years.

Even so, Bonker said he would be reluctant to turn it over to the Park Service now without definitive proof of Forest Service mismanagement.

“I think over the years the Forest Service has done a very capable job,” Bonker said.