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An umbrella group for more than 50,000 Utahns, mostly hunters and fishing fans, endorsed a proposal Wednesday to create 3.8 million acres of wilderness on Bureau of Land Management property.

The Utah Wildlife Leadership Coalition, an umbrella for 47 organizations, endorsed the proposal of the Utah Wilderness Association, one of its members. The proposed area would be smaller than the 5 million acres of wilderness proposed by the Utah Wilderness Coalition but about twice as large as called for in the BLM's preliminary proposal.Bob Nelson, spokesman for the Utah Wildlife Leadership Coalition, told the Deseret News Wednesday, "The continued degradation of wildlife habitat ultimately will result, we believe, in the destruction of the sports of hunting and in some areas, fishing.

"So in order to protect those public lands values . . . or recreational resources, for generations of Utahns yet unborn, we believe that now is the time for hunters and fishermen and conservationists to get together."

They should take advantage of the opportunity represented by the BLM wilderness process, and "preserve forever, hopefully, that critical habitat."

A certain amount of discussion took place within the group over several years concerning wilderness, he said. But many hunters have a conservation ethic "because they understand the need for wildlife habitat," Nelson said.

In a Dec. 13 meeting of the group's board - which includes all the organizations in the umbrella group - three abstained in the vote about whether to support wilderness. All other groups present supported the 3.8 million-acre proposal.

According to Nelson, wilderness designation would not seriously limit access to hunters.

"Utah has less than a third as much wilderness as its neighbors in the West. And those states in fact right now are in the process of increasing the amount of wilderness in their boundaries because they recognize the importance of preserving that economic base and also its recreational importance."

Dick Carter, coordinator of the Utah Wilderness Association, said that since 1985 his group has supported the proposal, "representing what we think are the best areas - the best wildlife habitat, the best rec-reation areas, the best ecologically intact areas in the state."

He said the association wants to work with all parties to help finally resolve the issue of wilderness.

Now, hunters and people who fish will begin to "get out in the forefront of the wilderness issue," Carter said.

The endorsement proves that support for wilderness is broad-based in Utah, he said. "We think it gives credibility to this position, to represent not just environmentalists but a broad array of citizens of the state of Utah."

He said consumptive users of the land, such as hunters, have the same interests as non-consumptive users - "preservation of the important stuff." He said resolving the wilderness issue will involve give and take.

"It's time to move on the wilderness bill," he said.