The record of Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, on environmental issues was defended Saturday night by former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall at a campaign fund-raising dinner organized by the Utah Sierra Club.

Owens has been criticized repeatedly by Republican challenger Richard Snelgrove for supporting the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.Snelgrove, an ice cream company executive, has said the District 2 congressman spends too much time on issues that don't directly affect his constituency instead of working to bring new jobs to Salt Lake City.

But the two-term congressman was among friends at the dinner held at Rowland Hall-St. Marks School. Some 80 members of Utah conservation groups paid $25 each to hear Udall praise Owens for his environmental efforts.

Udall, who served as interior secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, knew Owens during the Utahn's first term in Congress, from 1972 to 1974.

The former cabinet member and congressman from Arizona referred to Owens' unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1974 as a mistake and said he predicted Owens would have a long tenure in the House.

"In the next 20 years, he'll be more powerful than my brother," Udall said, a reference to Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz., who is also known for his stands on environmental issues.

Owens did not run again for Congress until 1986, when he recaptured his District 2 seat. Udall said that despite the lapse between his two terms, Owens is "one of the big horses in Washington for environmental issues."

Udall also emphasized Owens' importance on a national level, saying he was interested in not just Utah issues, but in the concerns of the entire country. "He's a U.S. representative," Udall said, emphasizing "U.S."

Owens returned the compliment to Udall by telling a story about an encounter he had with current Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel in Washington recently.

"I told Hodel, `Your a nice man Mr. Secretary, but you're no Stewart Udall,' " Owens told the appreciative audience.