Outdoor therapy programs for youth have spread like wildfire throughout the West.

But only one state - Utah - has specific laws to regulate them.It is only fitting, then, that Utah hosted the first "Western United States Regional Conference on Wilderness/Survival Treatment Programs for Youth," which was funded by federal and private sources.

"We're here to share information on outdoor wilderness programs and, hopefully, come up with some uniformity in regulations, standards and licensing procedures," said Wayne Holland, quality assurance manager for Utah's Division of Youth Corrections.

Holland even suggested setting up a clearinghouse to track the programs and employees.

"Some of the employees are abusive to children and, once they're caught, they just pack up and leave to go work in another state."

About 40 people from all Western states - except Alaska and Oregon - were on hand for the two-day conference Thursday and Friday.

They mainly learned from experiences that Utah and Hawaii have had with the controversial programs, which do not normally fit under the laws governing residential treatment facilities.

Short of federal legislation, it will be virtually impossible for each state to have exact laws. But Holland said he hopes that states can eventually adopt laws that are similar enough to stop unscrupulous programs from operating anywhere.

"We perceive a problem because a program may not be allowed to operate in one state so they'll go to another."

Which would be fine - if children were not at risk, he said.