After first denying it, Jay C. Woolley, director of the Utah Travel Council, admits political pressure forced the council to change the makeup of a panel that will discuss wilderness issues at a state conference next week.

Because southern Utah county commissioners and some congressional office complained the panel was pro-wilderness, a moderator was placed on it. He is Bruce Godfrey, economics professor at Utah State University.Godfrey has strongly defended a controversial USU master's thesis by Kim S. Christy, which challenged the idea that wilderness designation would result in increased recreational use or tourism.

Asked if he has a position on wilderness, Godfrey said, "Not particularly," and said he does not know why he was added to the panel. "I'm purely the moderator. I do not plan on getting in the middle of the discussion."

Last year, the Travel Council was lining up speakers for the Governor's Conference on Tourism and Recrea-tion, to be held at the Dixie Center in St. George, April 15-17. Among presentations were to be talks on infrastructure to handle tourism and recreation, marketing plans, attracting bicyclists, national ski trends, the value of wild lands to a local community, snowmobiling and the "Take Pride in Utah" program.

Members of the wilderness panel were to be Brant Calkin, director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; Jane Leeson, Utah representative for The Wilderness Society; and Arden Pope, economics professor at Brigham Young University. Pope has blasted as absurd a study that claims that Rep. Wayne Owens' wilderness bill, if passed, would cost the state $230 billion over the next 25 years.

A protest campaign was launched against the panel.

How successful was it? Successful enough for a moderator to be added and for Woolley to momentarily attempt to cover up the change.

I asked Woolley if the reason for Godfrey's appointment was to give the panel balance. "I assume it is," Woolley said. "I don't see a story here."

He said Godfrey was on the program from the beginning.

I requested names of members of the committee running the conference, particularly Forest Service people, so I could call them and ask if they felt any political pressure about the panel's makeup. Woolley said he'd have a staff member get the information to me.

But the next call was from Woolley himself, and he had an admission.

"I misstated," he said. "there was - well, bluntly, the reason there is a moderator on that particular panel is we had not just one call, but several calls from people, particularly in southern Utah, and even as much as the congressional office, suggesting that we needed some balance.

"So there is that. And that decision was made shortly after the registration packets were printed and sent out."

The change was made "in my office as a result of - if you want to call it pressure you could do that - but the fact is we had many calls expressing concern that there was no balance on the committee."

He said Knutson was not one of those who called the travel council. Then who did call? "We had several, and I'm not going to give you any names," he said.

"One of the conversations I had with the congressional office, they were wondering, `What is this for?' because the opponents of wilderness don't see anything else than, `This is a wilderness panel and all these people are in favor of wilderness, and it's going to kill us."'

Why didn't the travel council simply resist the pressure? "As I told you, I made a mistake, there was pressure put on, and we felt like everybody should have their say," Woolley said.

Was Gov. Norm Bangerter involved? "No, absolutely not . . . It's not a big deal. And once I explained it to the congressional office, they said, `OK, fine.' "

But it is a big deal when a state caves in over something as harmless as a panel discussion on wilderness. Having a moderator isn't objectionable and maybe Godfrey is the best man for the job. What is objectionable is that a state agency was forced to change its plans because of ideological pressure.

"The anti-wilderness thought police have never been concerned about fairness or balance, so I guess I'm not surprised," Calkin said. The machinations are "an indication of why the entire wilderness issue has become so controversial," he said.

Pope, a friend of Godfrey's, said he respects him, has co-authored papers with him, and is comfortable with his presence on the panel.

"The thing that has bothered me most in issues regarding environmental management generally in the state of Utah is that they seem to be so terribly polarized to begin with, and there seems to be so little room to do scholarly academic research without these polarized political pressures."

Leeson said, "I think it showed less than good integrity on the part of those bringing the pressure and maybe reluctance to really deal with the facts. I welcome the panel and an opportunity to speak to these people. I just hope that they're willing to listen."