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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is launching an expensive media campaign attacking Gov. Mike Leavitt's deal with the Interior Department that releases nearly 6 million acres in Utah from temporary wilderness protection.
SUWA officials said Wednesday that the campaign will urge residents to pressure the governor to rescind the settlement. SUWA attorney Scott Groene said the campaign's cost will run "well into the six figures."
"We're trying to take advantage of sentiment in Utah to protect those wild places that enhance our quality of life," Groene said. "The governor's actions will cause the loss of those places. And we believe the people of Utah can exert pressure to convince the governor that he made a mistake."
The ads include birds chirping, brooks babbling and a narrator saying Utah "is losing its wilderness voice. As a result of Gov. Leavitt's secret deal with the Department of Interior, over 6 million acres of pristine wilderness are now left to the mercy of development and abuse."
Leavitt spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour called the SUWA campaign "a prime example of what extremists will do. The governor wants to start where there is agreement and start making wilderness. The extremists want all or nothing."
Leavitt's deal with the Interior Department tossed out wilderness policy safeguards the Bureau of Land Management had imposed during the Clinton administration and blocked the BLM from adding further protection outside the 22.8 million acres of roadless and undeveloped land across the nation without specific approval from Congress.
Leavitt has promised to push Congress to gain wilderness designation for 3.2 million acres that were deemed "Wilderness Study Areas" more than a decade ago.
"The governor says there is lots of wilderness to be made down the middle, but there is zero at the extremes -- those who want no wilderness and those who want to designate huge segments of our state as wilderness," said Gochnour.
Under the Clinton administration, the BLM determined that at least 2.6 million acres more than the initial 3.2 million inventory fit into the 1964 Wilderness Act definitions.
Meanwhile, the Utah Wilderness Coalition advocates 9.1 million acres of wilderness.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)