A draft environmental study of the nation's wildlife refuge system prepared three years ago provoked so much controversy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to start all over again.

Representatives from the federal agency came Wednesday night to Salt Lake City - the midpoint of a 31-meeting tour of the country to inform the public about its new environmental study and management plan process.Dubbed "Refuges 2003 - A Plan for the Future of the National Wildlife Refuge System," the new study will outline the refuge system's future through the year 2003, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the country's first wildlife refuge. The study is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking more public comment on how to manage the 90 million acres of national wildlife refuge, whose status is provoking increasing controversy.

At the heart of the issue is what activities should be allowed in refuges. In fact, some take issue with the very definition of the word "refuge," said service spokesman Jared Brandwein, who admitted that the agency's definition differed from the dictionary's.

The issue of compatibility - whether such uses as hunting, trapping, grazing, oil and gas exploration or logging should continue to be allowed on wildlife refuges - is perhaps the most controversial of the management issues.

But 17 more issues - including protection of biological diversity, environmental contaminants, land acquisition needs and even an overhaul of the agency's basic mission statement - were identified at a major symposium held on the East Coast last fall. Issues not yet included in the study's scope may be submitted to the agency.

A 28-page workbook compiled by the agency and distributed at Wednesday's meeting, held at the Red Lion Hotel, is the primary tool for clarifying public opinion on the wildlife refuge issue. The workbook may be ordered by writing to the Refuges 2003 Planning Team, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Mail Stop - 670 ARLSQ, 1849 C St., NW, Washington, DC 20240.