Herrera Beutler won't back national park study for volcano

She says her constituents want Forest Service to maintain role

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said this week she will not support a study of whether Mount St. Helens should be a national park.

The Camas Republican's statement, delivered in a letter to the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday, praised forest officials for the work they've done around the mountain and its facilities in recent years. It also delivers a blow to advocates who say national park status would give Mount St. Helens better financial stability and a better future.

But many residents simply don't see it that way, Herrera Beutler said.

"My office has queried many stakeholders and community members, and I have received a resounding response that they wish for continued (Forest Service) management of the monument," she wrote, citing hunting and recreation access limitations among the concerns raised. A comprehensive study would also cost money in a difficult budget climate, she said.

"In light of these concerns," Herrera Beutler said, "I have determined that I will not support the commission of such a study."

Under the microscope

Mount St. Helens is now designated a 110,000-acre national volcanic monument within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Its management has come under the microscope in recent years. In 2009, a broad citizen advisory committee recommended keeping the Northwest icon under the watch of the Forest Service -- as long as it made progress on a list of improvements laid out at the time.

Officials have also used a recent strategic investment plan as a blueprint toward better success at the mountain, beset by funding uncertainty and instability in the past.

Last month, forest officials delivered a presentation, attended by Herrera Beutler, highlighting their accomplishments, facility upgrades and partnerships with surrounding communities near Mount St. Helens. Several of those partners offered their own endorsements of the Forest Service during the meeting.

The National Parks Conservation Association, a high-profile voice calling for national park status for Mount St. Helens, expressed disappointment in Herrera Beutler's stance. Studying other management options would open new opportunities for Mount St. Helens, Northwest policy director Sean Smith said in a released statement.

"We believe that community members throughout southern Washington and beyond would greatly benefit from increased access to information, and that the study would help inform future decisions," Smith said. The group will continue to work toward Mount St. Helens reaching its "full potential" for the region, he said.

Herrera Beutler noted, as others have, that more work needs to be done to serve visitors and neighbors of the mountain. In her letter, the congresswoman specifically mentioned a comprehensive management plan, overnight accommodations, community partnerships and additional recreational activities as areas the Forest Service should prioritize.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.