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UTAH DELEGATES AIM TO INCREASE SCOPE OF WILDS BILL

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Utah's Republicans in Congress have decided that designating 1.8 million acres of wilderness on Bureau of Land Management areas in Utah is not enough.

They agreed in concept Wednesday to increase it by 250,000 to 300,000 acres - or a sixth more than is now in their wilderness bill - for a total of about 2.1 million acres, they said after a closed-door strategy session.Rep. Enid Waldholtz, R-Utah, had been pushing to add 363,373 acres - including expanding proposed wilderness areas in Grand Gulch and the Book Cliffs, and adding new areas in Turtle Canyon and Fish and Owl Creek canyons.

Waldholtz said the Republican delegation now is looking at a smaller compromise amount after they or aides had "driven over some roads that some people said were roads and others said weren't. We're just trying to make sure that the addition contains areas that qualify for wilderness."

Republicans say the 1964 Wilderness Act says areas with roads and other development should be excluded from wilderness protection, although some environmental groups disagree with the strict interpretation.

The addition is not expected to satisfy most environmental groups, which have been pushing for a bill by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., that would instead create 5.7 million acres of wilderness - a 10th of all land in Utah.

It may also further anger rural county commissioners who have recommended creation of only 1 million acres of wilderness.

Waldholtz said final boundaries for the addition are still being worked out.

But Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said, "We expect to support it." Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, added, "We're coming together very well on it."

Waldholtz said the acreage will be added to the bill when the full House considers it - which House leaders have promised should be before the end of this year. The bill already has passed the House Resources Committee.

Bennett said the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to consider it on Oct. 18 - and he hopes the full Senate may consider it before year's end.

Utah delegation members are worried they are running out of time to pass the bill this year with Congress facing a heavy legislative agenda on other matters - and said their strategy session Wednesday was to help ensure their bases are covered.

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said the delegation is facing some surprising attacks from conservatives and some county commissioners who want to delay the bill until after the next presidential election - thinking a Republican will win who would support much less wilderness in Utah.

He said some of them are drafting a bill calling for only 500,000 acres - and are pushing the current administration (as well as environmental groups from the left) to veto the Republican delegation's bill.

"We find ourselves in a funny situation. On one side, people are saying it's not anywhere near enough - and on the other that it's too much. And all of them are hoping for a veto, but for entirely different reasons," Hansen said.

Hatch said all sides should realize, "This is about as good as we are going to be able to do."

The administration in hearings has threatened to veto the bill if it passes Congress, saying it is "far off the mark" in the amount of wilderness it protects and would drastically rewrite the Wilderness Act to allow development in some areas.

Hansen and Hatch, however, said they believe they can persuade or pressure the administration into supporting the bill.

"I think the administration is starting to come our way," Hansen said. "There's a lot of `got-to-bes' that the administration has to have that must go through our hands."

Hatch said, "I think that sums it up."

Hatch, of course, largely controls the fate of administration judicial nominees as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hansen largely controls changes sought for public lands as chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands.