Baird backs Forest Service for volcano

He plans to press for consistent funding of the monument

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Congressman Brian Baird says he came away from a tour of Mount St. Helens on Friday convinced the Forest Service is capable of managing the national volcanic monument.

Forest Service officials showed the Vancouver Democrat a series of new exhibits and additional plans for the Johnston Ridge Observatory, thanks in part to a one-time shot of federal economic stimulus funding.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is using $10 million to reduce a trails and roads maintenance backlog as well as make a series of new investments. Improvements at Johnston Ridge include updated exhibits and a new outdoor amphitheater scheduled to break ground on Tuesday, during the 30th anniversary of the cataclysmic eruption of May 18, 1980.

Baird, along with U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, recently received a set of recommendations from an advisory committee on the future of the 110,000-acre national volcanic monument.

In light of chronic budget shortfalls, culminating in the permanent closure of the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center in 2007, critics have called for the National Park Service to take over management of the monument. A majority of the advisory committee recommended keeping it with the Forest Service, but only with a commitment for adequate and consistent funding.

Baird said he’s planning to raise the issue directly with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

“First of all, whatever agency is in charge … has to deal with pretty tight budget constraints,” he said. “Resources are likely to be finite from any agency. Having said that, it’s very clear to me that the Forest Service is very proud to have the Mount St. Helens monument in the national forest system and in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. I think they’re committed.”