This is in reference to the planned Utah wilderness bill supported by Gov. Mike Leavitt, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, and Reps. Bill Orton, Jim Hansen and Enid Waldholtz. This proposal makes a travesty of wilderness protection. Its actual purpose seems to be setting aside millions of acres of public land for unhindered private commercial development.

I have been exploring Utah extensively since 1980 and am personally familiar with the areas under consideration for wilderness protection. These lands have unique and superlative wilderness value that never can be restored once destroyed by development.As if the proposal is not absurd enough by its inclusion of a mere 1.4 million acres out of the citizens' proposal for 5.7 million acres, it includes the ignominious tenets of "hard release" of lands not designated wilderness and no reopening of the BLM's inventory for including roadless lands in the study process. This proposal is incredibly short-sighted and totally unacceptable. BLM's inventory process was notoriously and deliberately inadequate. Hard release would mandate unprotected lands to be opened to development.

Let us not forget that BLM lands are publicly owned federal lands. We must all be concerned with how these lands are either protected or developed. I am incredulous that the government officials of the state of Utah would consider destroying the extraordinary topography and irreplaceable wilderness of my public lands.

Conversely, I adamantly support New York Rep. Hinchey's proposed Utah Wilderness Bill. I find it ironic that a representative from New York must propose the bill to protect Utah wild lands while Utahns propose its annihilation.

Catherine O'Riley

Director at large, Deseret Survivors

Chairwoman, Utah Task Force

San Leandro, Calif.