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Should the NPS Be Given Mount St. Helens?

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Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Both the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service are hamstrung by deficient budgets. In the case of the Forest Service, one symptom of its financial plight is that the agency wants to close a visitor center at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. That move has spurred calls that the Park Service be given the monument to manage, and the National Parks Conservation Association now is echoing those calls.

But should Mount St. Helens be given such status? As Jeremy Sullivan pointed out a month ago, (S)witching 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.

Too, he pointed out that Washington state's congressional delegates, the ones who now are being lobbied to push the Park Service to take over Mount St. Helens, could solve the immediate problem by working to better fund the Forest Service.

But the NPCA seems to see the Forest Service's budgetary struggles as a perfect opening to add another jewel to the park system.

“Mount St. Helens is a national gem. The volcano and the surrounding communities deserve the recognition that come with national park status,” says Sean Smith, NPCA's Northwest regional director. “Placing Mount St. Helen’s under the care of the Park Service would ensure the volcano’s natural wonders are preserved for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

While it'd be hard to argue that Mount St. Helens isn't worthy of park status, can the Park Service afford it at this point in time? After all, the agency already has an $8 billion backlog of maintenance needs, and its annual budget falls roughly $800 million shy of what the agency needs, according to the NPCA.

At a time when the Park Service is leasing facilities to private interests because it can't afford to maintain them, I wonder how it could possibly afford to take on Mount St. Helens.

NPR Audio Coverage from Seattle Affiliate:
Jeers Outnumber Cheers For Volcano National Park Idea

Comments

Are three visitor centers necessary?


As I mentioned last time this came up, there is enormous pressure on the Forest Service for mining, forest and (intrusive) recreational use within the boundaries of the monument. Because the Forest Service's mission is not about protection of the resource, but best use of the resource, the Forest Service is prone to give in to these commercial interests. Mount St. Helens is too vital to science and the public to be parced out to private interests. The amount of compromise so far in the monument is unacceptable (already the boundaries are way too small and porous).

No, the Park Service can't afford governing the area any more than the Forest Service. But I hope that doesn't stop us from protecting areas that ought to be protected. Mount St. Helens is of significant interest to the public and to science. We have arguably learned more from the 1980 eruption about explosive volcanic events than any previous event and the recovery information we're receiving from the blast zone is vital to so many areas of interest. This is a place that deserves park status if ever one does.

When Lassen exploded in 1915, Congress moved to protect the area to ensure the public's interest. It's time we do the same for Mount St. Helens.

If both NPS & USFS are strapped for cash, what difference is the transfer except that Mount St. Helens will receive the protection it deserves and stop the ravishing from commercial interests?


And one more thing, the USFS does not operate three visitor centers in the monument. It used to, but one visitor center (Silver Lake) is now operated by the Washington State Parks and Recreation department and it isn't located in the monument, but several miles away near Interstate 5. Two are left and one is being closed. The one left, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, is essentially a bookstore, a movie theatre and a viewing platform. The visitor center that is closing (Coldwater Ridge) was the one with most of the interpretive displays. This will leave hardly any interpretive opportunities in the monument.


It seems like the USFS lacks the ability to mange a protected area with significant public interest. And given the other National Monuments administered by the USFS, they don't need this ability. Besides the two huge NMs in Alaska (Admiralty Island NM and Misty Fjords NM), the USFS manages tiny Giant Sequoia National Monument, California (just outside Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP), Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains NM near Palm Springs, California (Jointly with the BLM) and there is Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Oregon and of course Mount St. Helens.

No other NM besides Mount St. Helens has a significant number of visitors. USFS simply isn't used to deal with keeping the balance between tourism and protection in a highly visible NM. So while the NPS lacks funding too, they at least have the experience how to manage protected areas with high public interest.


As I mentioned last time this came up, there is enormous pressure on the Forest Service for mining, forest and (intrusive) recreational use within the boundaries of the monument. Because the Forest Service's mission is not about protection of the resource, but best use of the resource, the Forest Service is prone to give in to these commercial interests.

I hear what you're saying, but there seems to be a flip side as well. By providing special places to manage in a different, more protective manner, the FS may begin to evolve toward greater stewardship. It's difficult to help change the culture of an agency if all you do is take away the best places and give them to the park service.

A similar tact is being taken with BLM's system of protected lands, called the National Landscape Conservation System. The Clinton/Babbitt strategy of giving the BLM (aka, Bureau of Livestock and Mining) some nice protected places seems to be having a slow - but steady - effect on the way the agency does day to day business. As long as the agency doesn't completely blow it, I believe that you can help slowly steer the ship in the right direction (ie, resource conservation and sustainability over resource extraction and "traditional use").

Scott.
rscottjones.com | scottspics.com


"USFS simply isn't used to deal with keeping the balance between tourism and protection in a highly visible NM. "

hold on a minute...

maybe not a "highly visible NM" but they do manage highly visible, heavily used national forests- many national forests get way more visitation than the parks and are coping with much smaller budgets. san bernardino, wasatch-cache and maybe a few more near the front range of colorado come to mind... and there is no off season. i would put money on the fact that some of these forests have visitor centers that get more visitation in a weekend than some nps units receive in a year and are additionally on par or exceed annual visitation at yellowstone or yosemite.

kurt- i'd like to see some numbers on this, to compare, if we're going to banter about nps vs. usfs and visitor centers and who should manage. i mean, really, it's not like you often even see uniformed rangers in the nps visitor centers (save zion, you see them there) last three visits to capitol reef were vols, saw no uniforms (concessionaire employees!) in bryce, retirees (vols) in yellowstone and i guess escalante doesn't count because they're blm anyway. i guess my issue is it's not like nps is the only land management agency out there dealing with the crowds. if you look at the population explosion out west, where the bulk of public land is, everyone is forced to deal with increased visitation trends these days.

disclosure: i do not work for the usfs, i think it would drive me crazy.


oh, and often times the agencies close things to get visitors to call politicians to get them to start funding things adequately... it's an effective "shaming" tool for getting politicians attention.


Coldwater Ridge should remain open. We visited Mt. St. Helens in April and would not have been able to if it was not open then. This resource is very valuable for the general public and teachers such as myself.


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