With volcanic activity at Mount St. Helens expected to continue, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts should be cautious near rivers downstream from the mountain, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said today.
The warning applies to the full length of several river systems below the mountain, not just waters within 12 miles of the crater, an area closed to the public last week as a safety precaution. That earlier land closure affected access to several hunting areas near the mountain.
The mainstem and north and south forks of the Toutle River, the lower Green River in Cowlitz County and the upper North Fork Lewis River above Swift Reservoir are among the waters that could be affected by suddenly increasing stream flows, flooding or other hazards related to volcanic activity, say state fish biologists.
Fishing for hatchery steelhead and salmon is open through Nov. 30 on the North Fork Toutle and the lower Green rivers, and hatchery steelhead fishing is under way on the South Fork Toutle. The upper North Fork Lewis River is open for game-fish angling through Oct. 31.
Federal scientists monitoring the mountain have said it is highly unlikely that current volcano activity would approach the force of the 1980 eruption that sent mudflows surging down the Toutle watershed. During that event, the North Fork Toutle backed up into the Green River and inundated WDFW 's North Toutle Hatchery, which is 24 air miles from the mountain crater.
However, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists have said ongoing volcanic activity is melting a glacier and forming a lake inside the crater. If there is an outburst of water from the crater, small floods could reach the Toutle River or other watersheds directly below the mountain.
WDFW has discontinued its fish and wildlife management activities on lands near the mountain and in the Toutle River watershed above the North Toutle Hatchery. The department has instituted emergency evacuation and relocation plans for its employees at the hatchery and at the Toutle River Fish Collection Facility (FCF) on the North Fork Toutle.
Last week, WDFW advised hunters that access to some game units near the mountain would be affected by safety closures. Access to portions of game management units 516 Packwood, 520 Winston, 524 Margaret, 554 Yale, 556 Toutle, 558 Marble, 560 Lewis River and 572 Siouxon is curtailed because parts of those hunting areas lie within areas other federal and state agencies had closed as a precaution. Early muzzleloader hunts for deer and elk run through Oct. 8 statewide. Modern firearm deer hunting begins Oct. 16 and modern firearm elk hunting begins Nov. 6 in western Washington.
The U.S. Forest Service last week closed the mountain's Johnston Ridge Observatory and other visitor sites, trail heads and viewpoints along State Route 504 beyond the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center. The state Department of Natural Resources has closed public lands and removed its field personnel within a 12-mile radius around the mountain, and the Weyerhaeuser Co. closed its lands and curtailed field operations in the Mount St. Helens area east of Interstate 5.
For updates on public access Contact the U.S. Forest Service at (360) 247-3900, the state Department of Natural Resources website at (http://www.dnr.wa.gov) or call Weyerhaeuser's access hotline at 1-(866) 636-6531.