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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Some disagreements remain over the first wilderness proposal set to be carried by a Utah congressman in decades.
The Washington County bill being crafted by Republican Sen. Bob Bennett is envisioned as a comprehensive land-use bill, resolving squabbles over water, roads, wilderness, hunting, grazing and off-roading, while ensuring the necessary resources for the county's exploding population.
Wish lists submitted to the senator by those trying to shape the legislation reflect common goals and agreement on many issues. But they also show core disagreements, even after early efforts to reach consensus.
"There are significant differences and they weren't really resolved during the discussions," said Pete Downing of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "I guess what that means (is) that Senator Bennett has his work cut out for him."
Bennett could unveil his bill as early as next month. Rather than an end, however, the release of his proposal will mark the start of efforts to bring diverging interests together to agree on a plan on thorny issues like all-terrain vehicle trail designations.
"There's a lot of discussion left to take place with stakeholders," said Bennett's spokeswoman, Mary Jane Collipriest. "None of us knows where that discussion may take us or how it will affect the schedule."
The recently released wish lists point to areas of broad agreement that will almost certainly be included in the bill: water rights will be guaranteed and habitat for the endangered desert tortoise will be protected, as will corridors for transportation, electric lines and gas pipelines.
But interests could scarcely be much further apart than in the struggle over wilderness.
Ranchers and off-road groups seem willing, perhaps begrudgingly, to swallow formal wilderness designation for 89,400 acres of Wilderness Study Areas identified in the Bureau of Land Management's 1980 inventory.
Environmental groups involved in the process -- SUWA, The Sierra Club and Wilderness Society -- want more than three times as much wilderness. They are proposing more than 300,000 acres of wilderness on BLM land alone, plus thousands of additional acres on Forest Service land.
All told, their proposals would put access restrictions on 60 percent of the land in the county, said Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner.
"I don't think that's realistic at all," he said.
Off-road vehicle groups insist that the bill complete the designation of the High Desert Trail System, a network of dirt paths envisioned stretching from Beaver County to the Arizona border.
Environmental groups contend that there is already more off-road vehicle use in the county than the BLM can manage, and creating new trail networks would encourage trespass and destruction of resources.
But the trail designation is widely supported and expected to be included in Bennett's draft, since it is seen as a way to control off-road traffic and prevent damage to areas where off-roading is prohibited.
The process was launched a year ago, when then-Gov. Olene Walker announced the formation of the Washington County Comprehensive Land-Use Planning Project. The group held several meetings and has gone on eight field trips to put its feet in the dirt on the lands at issue.
Bennett's staff is expected to finish drafting the bill sometime next month, although that could change. When it's finished, the commission plans to hold open houses in the county so residents can see the maps, digest the plan and give their feedback.
It will also spark a new round of meetings with the stakeholder group, where they will try to work out their differences.
"I'm sure we're going to reach some kind of conclusion," said Gardner. "Obviously everybody is not going to be 100 percent happy with the bill, so I don't know what the final outcome is going to be, but I think that it has a pretty good chance."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.