Research Plots near Mount St. Helens Threatened by a Road Project

Mount St. Helens
"Reflection of Mount St. Helens / from 9,677ft. to 8,365ft. in seconds" by Andrew E. Larsen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

By Jim Brace-Thompson

A new U.S. Forest Service (USFS) road project near the notorious Mount St. Helens stratovolcano in Washington is in the planning stage. Developers suggest it could help avert flood risk in the area. Per an article in a recent issue of the journal Science, the road is intended to repair and service a tunnel draining nearby Spirit Lake to prevent potential flood events that could threaten tens of thousands of people should a natural debris dam created by the volcanic eruption collapse. Up to now, heavy construction equipment has been helicoptered in, and the USFS says the new road presents a better option in the face of a major public safety issue.

“But hold on!” exclaim ecological research scientists.

When Mount St. Helens let loose with a mighty eruption in 1980, it created a blast zone of some 230 square miles. As devastating as it was at the time, the big boom created a big boon for scientists studying ecological communities and how they rebound after near-total disaster. In fact, nearly 1,000 research plots have been established in the blast zone to study the return of plants and wildlife. These scientists say that the road project will cut right through 25 key research areas and that they were never consulted about the planned road. They also argue that the risk of catastrophic flooding is not as dire nor as imminent as USFS officials claim.

Who will prevail? Well, look to the courts. Several scientific and conservation groups have filed a lawsuit to prevent the road. Stay tuned!

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids and has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category.
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