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Midpoint in a debate on Utah wilderness, panelists assembled by KUED-TV were asked if there were any hope that opposing sides could work together to forge a wilderness consensus.

When panelists responded, they said yes. "It's going to cost us not to agree," said Utah Sen. Karen Shepard, D-Salt Lake.But by the time debate participants finished listing conditions that should be included in a consensus agreement, it became clear that Utah's wilderness debate is likely to continue to be divisive, perhaps even beyond its ultimate settlement in the Congress.

The debate, co-sponsored by KUED-TV, the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Utah chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, featured 11 prominent spokespeople on the wilderness issue from the public and private sectors.

Ken Rait represented the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; Terri Martin, the National Parks and Conservation Association; C. Booth Wallentine, the Utah Farm Bureau Federation; Jane Leeson, the Utah Wilderness Association; William Howell, the Southeastern Utah Association of Governments; Jim Peacock, the Utah Petroleum Association; Lawson Legate, the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club; Sen. Karen Shepard, D-Salt Lake; James Parker, the Bureau of Land Management; and Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, 1st Congressional District.

Second District Congressman Wayne Owens, D-Utah, was to have been at the debate but was forced to cancel at the last minute when he was called to accompany a delegation to the Middle East.

Throughout the two-hour debate, which drew about 100 people to the University of Utah's Marriott Center for Dance Hayes/Christensen Theatre, panelists presented often diametrically opposed perspectives on the complex issues surrounding Utah's wilderness proposals.

Key points of debate included access, economics, public lands management and the amount of acreage that Congress should ultimately give wilderness designation.

Rait said the longest distance from a road in Utah's roadless areas was seven miles, but Peacock said that was too much and would effectively lock out the public. "That seven miles might as well be 700," he said.

Wallentine, Johnson and Howell repeatedly said that ranchers who depend on public lands grazing rights suffer economically with wilderness designations; Legate just as repeatedly argued that grazing is allowed in wilderness areas and therefore is not an issue.

Wilderness advocates said that turning Southern Utah toward a service economy would end the region's boom-and-bust cycles, and Wallentine told them to stop minimizing the importance of other industries.

Howell, responding to charges that the BLM has mismanaged the public lands, said that the fact that wildlife has flourished over the past 20 years proves the agency's management prowess.

But Martin noted that of the 22 million acres the BLM oversees, only 3.2 million were deemed fit for wilderness study, according to the agency's own criteria. Something, she said, happened to the other 18 million acres.

The forum was taped, and will be televised April 22, at 7 p.m. on KUED.