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A conservation group charges that swapping federal land to allow construction of a mega-resort near Ogden would decrease opportunities for free public recreation and damage wildlife habitat.

But the supervisor of Wasatch-Cache National Forest contends that the public land would be replaced by private property within the national forest, and in the long run, habitat might actually improve if the trade goes through.Under the proposal, the Sun Valley Co. would acquire 1,320 acres of Wasatch National Forest land to expand its operation into a year-round resort. Lodging facilities, a golf course, condominiums, tennis courts, restaurants, shops and some residences would be built.

Snowbasin would have 16 ski lifts, nearly 1,500 dwelling units and cross-country skiing facilities.

In exchange, the resort would trade private land to the agency. So far, parcels to be offered to the Forest Service haven't been identified publicly.

Save Our Canyons, a group based in Salt Lake City, says the plan would allow construction of "a mega-resort" at Snowbasin and is contrary to the ideal of maintaining mountain terrain for inexpensive recreation and as watershed.

"It will necessarily have a major impact on wildlife in the region," says an alert mailed by Save Our Canyons board members Mike Budig, Gale Dick and Ann Wechsler.

"Approval would establish a very dangerous precedent for the Forest Service," the alert adds. "We urge you to voice your objections to this expansive plan before Dec. 29."

According to the environmentalists, the plan would turn a great deal of public land - now used for camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and nature studies - into a high-density tourism area.

"It will necessarily have a major impact on wildlife in the region."

Dale S. Bosworth, supervisor of Wasatch-Cache National Forest, says the critics forget that a trade goes both ways. The agency would get private land in exchange.

"If they (Sun Valley Co.) can't come up with a package that's acceptable to the Forest Service, there's no deal," he said. The public will be consulted about the particulars of the trade, if a swap is approved in principle.

The exchange must be for land of equal value, he said. It must be property important to the Forest Service, and that fits in with national forest objectives such as providing big game winter range, recreation or watershed protection.

"It has to be within the national forest boundary, and by law it has to be inside the state," Bosworth said. The boundary of Wasatch-Cache National Forest can't be changed without the approval of Congress.

A great deal of private land is scattered throughout the forest. Much of it once was federal land but was patented through mining claims many years ago.

As far as wildlife habitat is concerned, Bosworth thinks the forest might benefit from the trade.

"The land that we're looking at up at Snow Basin is not winter range. It's summer range, and it gets used by some deer and some moose."

If the forest could acquire scarce winter habitat in exchange, that might be better for wildlife than the more common summer range.

Still, wouldn't a net loss of habitat result if the Forest Service acquires private land already used by wildlife? When condominiums are built on property that once belonged to the agency, no new acres of habitat will be created.

Bosworth disagrees with that thinking.

"We could do certain kinds of activities that would improve the wildlife habitat," he said.

In addition, the private land offered could be developable itself. By acquiring it, the Forest Service might protect it from construction.