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John C. Saw-hill, president of the Nature Conservancy, says the 650,000-member group is interested in preserving 40 more tracts of land in Utah.

The Nature Conservancy acquires land for the protection of rare and endangered wildlife. In the 10 years that it has operated in Utah, it purchased or exchanged tracts throughout the state totaling more than 21,000 acres.In a meeting with Deseret News editors and reporters Tuesday, Saw-hill announced the start of a program focusing on the Colorado Plateau, the "Bright Edge Campaign." The group hopes to raise $3.3 million over three years for the effort.

Chris Montague of the group's office in Salt Lake City said in Utah the effort focuses on 40 sites, from small hanging gardens to larger tracts, mostly in east-central and southeastern Utah. Botanists and biologists have worked for the past year and a half to identify the sites where rare plants and animals most need protection.

Of these, 25 sites are on public land and 15 are privately owned. Some may face threats from recreation, he said.

Others are virtually untouched, on remote mesa tops. "Really they've been so sited that they've never seen grazing," he said. Riparian, or streamside, areas are among the areas of concern. Some sites are in the Cisco Desert near Moab.

Private land could be acquired, while the group hopes to work with government officials to protect federal property. "We need to get some staff down there working with the public agencies," Montague said.

Dave Livermore, also of the Salt Lake office, said the Nature Conservancy hopes to establish a risk capital fund to acquire sites. In some cases, it will resell land.

"We've just heard that the George Eccles organization has just pledged $736,000," he said. Another $100,000 was pledged by Ian and Annette Cumming, and $45,000 by the Dee Foundation.

Among the Nature Conservancy's efforts, Livermore said, would be to establish the Conservancy's Matheson Slough outside Moab as a showcase preserve. The slough was dedicated last year.

Sawhill said the Conservancy wants to establish trails and an interpretive display in the 690-acre wetlands. An observation tower may be built in the project, which should show some results by this fall and take another year or so to complete.

Throughout its efforts, the Conservancy has sought to be non-confrontational. "We feel very strongly . . . that we have to have the support, really the enthusiastic support, of the local community. Otherwise we won't succeed in our land-protection effort," Sawhill said.

The group uses the pitch that preserves are good for the local economy. It tries to steer clear of the bitter controversy that has wracked other efforts to protect nature.

"Most people are environmentalists. Most people like nature and want to protect it," Sawhill said. But he added he has found there are "fringe groups . . . on either end that are really tough."

"We're not interested in wilderness," Livermore said. "We're looking at quality (of land), not quantity."

In a speech prepared for delivery to the Salt Lake Rotary Club, Sawhill emphasized Utah's importance to the group.

"You may not be aware of it, but Utah stands fifth in the country in terms of biodiversity," he said. "In other words, only four states have a greater number of endangered plants and animals than Utah."

That puts Utah toward the top in the Nature Conservancy's priorities.


(Additional information)

Protected areas

In the past decade, the Nature Conservancy's efforts in Utah have included protecting:

- The Jarvie Ranch on the Green River at Brown's Park, 160 acres.

- The 1,192-acre Layton Marsh on the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake.

- A 1,527-acre ranch near Santaquin, the Steele Ranch.

- The Lytle ranch, a 460-acre wildlife "oasis" near St. George.

- About 15 river miles, totaling 5,700 acres, along the Strawberry River.

- 3,210 acres in the basin near the Deep Creek Mountains.

- 44 acres in central Utah, where the last 25 plants of the autumn buttercup survive, a preserve that also supports a colony of threatened Utah prairie dogs.

- The 635-acre Red Cliffs property near St. George, purchased and exchanged to protect desert tortoises, Gila monsters and raptors.

- 69 acres near Soldier Summit, where the last 20 plants of the endangered clay phacelia wildflower are protected.

- The 690-acre Moab Slough.

- The Cunningham ranch in the Book Cliffs, 7,583 acres.