There in an article today in the Columbian, a Vancouver, Washington based newspaper that details the efforts of four US Representatives to get the Mt St Helens Volcanic Monument moved from the management of the US Forest Service to management under the National Park Service. The article, "St. Helens National Park?", addresses the issue of the Forest Service having to permanently close a visitor center within the Monument because of budget shortages. Because of this closure, Washington's two Senators and two Congressman (including Norm Dicks, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Committee) have asked Mark Rey, the Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment to see if the Forest Service is the best agency to provide long term management of the volcanic resource.
In the letter, the representatives state, "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." It continues, with emphasis on the budget, "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 and the National Park Service have very different objectives when it comes to land management. The Forest Service manages for multiple use, for activities including logging, hunting, mining, grazing, off-road use, and for hiking and other low impact recreational activities. And under that mission, Mt St Helens has been a working mountain. But since the major eruption in 1980, the mountain has been a poor investment for the Forest Service because all timber of value has been salvaged, and it will be generations before full-scale harvesting could return to the slopes of the mountain. Modern management of the mountain more closely resembles that of the Park Service, with preservation of the resource for science and for visitor enjoyment in the form of elaborate visitor centers and museum exhibits.
I find it somewhat ironic that this debate is happening for a mountain located inside of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Gifford Pinchot was the first person in the United States to graduate with at degree in Forestry. He was also the first person to lead the US Forest Service. It was debates in the late 1800's between Pinchot and John Muir that lead to the distinctions between managing forests for conservation (managing trees as crops) and preservation (letting trees alone), which would eventually be the major distinction between the Forest Service and the Park Service operations.
Also, I find it interesting, that if the problems at Mt St Helens predominantly involve issues surrounding the budget, the four representatives from Washington are in a unique position to do something about it, specifically, give more money to the Forest Service for visitor services on the mountain. Switching the management of the mountain from one cash-starved agency to another cash-starved agency may not solve the fundamental problem of not having enough money to operate the three visitor centers at St Helens. The National Park Service does have experience managing volcanic resources and visitor services at places like Hawaii Volcanoes, Lassen, Mt Rainier, and even Yellowstone. And so, if Congress can provide the additional funds needed for operations, the Park Service may be the best agency to manage the Mt St Helens Volcanic Monument for the future generations.