Rep. Howard Nielson says he is opposing a National Park Service plan for a development-free buffer zone around Hovenweep National Monument, claiming it would needlessly hamper economic growth.

Nielson, R-Utah, met with representatives of the oil and gas industry this week in Salt Lake City to discuss their concerns over the proposal. And, he said, the executives told him "the plan would restrict development of some potentially very rich oil and gas reserves in the state."Advocates of the buffer zone contend the protection is needed to preserve the environment and Indian archaeological ruins near the monument in southeastern Utah.

But Nielson said oil and gas exploration and development actually help in achieving the goals of preservationists.

"The industry has spent over $1 million preserving the archaeology of the area, an amount that the state and local county governments would never be able to afford," he said.

Nielson plans town meetings April 15 in Blanding and Monticello to find out how citizens feel about the Hovenweep proposal and what concerns they have with the BLM's San Juan area management plan.