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