Members of more than 150 national organizations - representing more than 17 million Americans - opened a three-day National Wilderness Conference at the Salt Lake Hilton Thursday and said they must use their huge membership to battle preservationists who want to lock up millions more acres of public land for wilderness.

A. Grant Gerber, Elko, Nev., chairman of the Wilderness Impact Research Foundation, held a press conference Thursday morning and said the many organizations sponsoring the conference "must develop plans to work together to counteract the misrespresentations and outright lies that have been foisted on the public by single-use wilderness advocates.Speak loudly

Gerber said, "As a group, we vastly outnumber preservationists, but they have spoken so loudly and have worked together so well that they appear to be much larger in numbers than they really are.

"Our side has taken for granted that Congress and the public would be reasonable about wilderness designations, but the preservationists have had such a strident voice that they have swayed many in high places and much of the public, especially with well-orchestrated television commercials and documentaries."

He said advocates of the multiple use of public lands should work together to focus more attention on their side of the story and should step up the production of their own television commercials and documentary films.

"We need to speak with more coordination and speak louder," he said.

United front

Michigan dentist Tim Sytsma, president of the United Four Wheel Drive Association, one of the first conference speakers Thursday, said manufacturers of four-wheel-drive trucks, utility vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, tire and parts manufacturers and the makers of specialty off-road equipment, such as winches, should be urged to join with the users of the outdoors and give their financial backing to programs to combat wilderness advocates and preservationists.

"We need to enlist these manufacturers to help us promote environmentally responsible multiple use."

"If more land is designated wilderness, the only way anyone will ever get into it or see it is to walk into it," Sytsma said.

John A. Knebel, Washington, D.C., president of the American Mining Congress, said more than 90 million acres of public lands have been set aside as wilderness since the Wilderness Act took effect in 1964 "and the push to add more land to the wilderness system continues unabated.

"This means these lands have been removed from the inventory of lands where prospectors can look for minerals that this country needs."

Undiscovered minerals

Knebel charged that the United States is not doing the kind of careful study needed to see what the mineral values in proposed wilderness areas might be.

"The folks at the Bureau of Mines and the Bureau of Land Management are being kept from finding out by what I call the environmental left."

He said the American Mining Congress has for years urged that new wilderness designations permit exploration and mining. "Highly mineralized zones should be excluded so the nation's mining companies can have reasonable access to such areas.

"We are also highly opposed to the whole idea of buffer zones around wilderness areas because somebody is going to come along and suggest we need buffer zones around the buffer zones.

"The environmental movement is bound and determined to block mineral development any way they can. They want you to believe that anyone who wants to use the public lands for anything more than gazing off into the distance is a raper and ravager or some kind of barbarian with no idea of what nature is all about."

Not only are environmentalists trying to get rid of mining in the United States, he said, "they are trying to rewrite the Mining Law of 1872. There are already suggestions by Congressmen that the cost prospectors pay to stake a claim be increased dramatically and exponentially during the life of the claim.

"It is a well-known fact that many mineral discoveries are still being made by underfunded prospectors, and such increased costs will prevent small miners and prospectors from looking for minerals."