The volcano's rumbling has hardly stopped but the federal government is already starting the process that will decide what the future use of Mount St. Helens and surrounding areas will be.

As a first step, the Forest Service has sent out a questionnaire to about 4,000 people who had been in touch with the Regional Forester's Office in Portland, Ore., on this or some other issue.

The alternatives being explored include setting aside most of the area and giving it a wilderness designation. Before the volcanic eruption, several portions of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, of which Mount St. helens is a part, were already being reviewed as part of the "Roadless Area Resource Evaluation," the so-called RARE II. Now, according to one official, these roadless areas have been joined together by new ones recently made roadless by the mud and lava that have wiped out the road networks.

Another idea being looked at is turning the volcanic area into a new "education and information" park for the public, taking care to set aside sections closest to the volcanic blast area as spots where further scientific study can take place.

These ideas are outlined in the Sept. 26 Federal Register (page 63892) as part of the notice announcing that the Forest Service is about to prepare an environmental impact statement "to decide the use and management of the lands and resources" of the area.