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Dispute over Mt. St. Helens lands swirls

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Since the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May of last year, volcanic activity has died down to only an occasional earthquake and rush of steam from the mountain's gaping crater. But sparks are still flying over the question of how lands affected by the blast should be managed.

At the crux of the issue is how much of the devastated landscape should be opened up to timber salvage operations and how much should be set aside to protect unique geologic features for scientists to study and for the public to enjoy.

After over a year of consideration, the federal government apparently has made but not yet announced a decision on how best to balance the conflicting demands on the 220 square miles of land damaged by the avalanche and pyroclastic mass that raced down Mt. St. Helens's northern slope. The Department of Agriculture, which administers government lands in the area through the United States Forest Service, is expected to make its decision public in the middle of October. Sources here indicate it is a compromise between the proposals of logging interests and environmentalists.

Agriculture's decision, however, won't be the last word on the issue. Rep. Don Bonker (D), whose district encompasses the devastated area, will introduce legislation in Congress which could tip land use plans away from lumber production and more toward conservation than the timber industry and their Reagan-appointed allies at the Department of Agriculture would like to see.

Last January, the Forest Service issued a draft environment impact statement outlining eight options for the area's land management. The Forest Service recommended one plan of action which rejected both environmentalists' plea for a 200,000-acre national park prohibiting timber salvage operations and lumberjacks' request that federal lands be opened up to widespread logging.

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