Burlington Northern Inc., which owns a major railroad and the top of Mount St. Helen's, announced yesterday it intends to give the crater of the volcano and some accompanying land to the federal government "to assist in the protection of this unique resource." Wayne Hopkins, a spokesman for Burlington, said, "we don't know" when asked if the corporation will seek a tax deduction. "We haven't made any effort to try and place a dollar value on the donation."

The Agriculture Department's Forest Service has already designated the land there a "National Volcanic Area," and owns most of the property surrounding the summit. Douglas MacCleery, deputy assistant secretary for natural resources, said yesterday that "in cases like this we would normally accept." The crater itself, he said, "never did have much value," and the adjoining land, which includes the site where Harry Truman's lodge once stood, "is under 200 to 300 feet of material. The whole area is closed to the public until things simmer down. The last time it erupted that took 25 years or so."

Burlington Northern came to own the summit when the federal government gave the property to one of its predecessor railroads in 1864 as part of a land grant program that encouraged railroad expansion. The land grants are still cited whenever Congress debates transportation subsidies and their precedents.