When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, the surrounding area was devastated. In a matter of minutes, the lake at the base of the mountain — Spirit Lake — turned from a scenic tourist destination to a lifeless pool filled with debris and toxic volcanic gasses. Shortly after the disaster, scientists began studying the lake, which was soon designated as a natural laboratory within the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Over almost three decades, researchers have carefully documented the recovery of Spirit Lake, while it has been closed to recreation. Plants have grown back, amphibians and insects have returned and in 1993 rainbow trout were discovered in the lake. No one quite knows how they got there, but now the fish are big enough that anglers are calling Spirit Lake a world-class fishery (pdf) and seeking legislative action that would put their lines in the water.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will change the rules if the state legislature passes the bill that would allow limited access to Spirit Lake for recreational fishing. But researchers say fishing would disrupt their work both in the lake and on its banks and should not be allowed.
At the same time, conservationists are advocating for the area to be designated as a national park, something they say would bring more tourists to visit the site but restrict hunting and other activities. An advisory committee met earlier this year and initially recommended the monument stay under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service. The committee is seeking input from the public and will make its final recommendation in May.
Have you hiked up to Mount St. Helens? Have you hunted or fished in the areas where this is allowed? Have you studied in the monument’s natural laboratory? Would you like to see greater public access to the area around Spirit Lake?
- Doug Larson: Writer and consulting scientist on water quality and lake issues, retired limnologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and former aquatic biologist for the Department of Environmental Quality
- Kemper Hall: First Vice President of the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers and a volunteer for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Tom Mulder: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Manager
- Sean Smith: Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association and former forest naturalist at Mount St. Helens