Communities involved in a tug-of-war over who gets to keep the Huntington Canyon mammoth skeleton will probably end up with replicas while the real thing is shipped out of state.

That is the likely outcome of the controversy that developed after the discovery last August of a complete mammoth skeleton near Fairview, David Gillette, state paleontologist, said Friday.Responding to questions after a museum lecture, Gillette said the skeleton found in Huntington Canyon in the Manti-LaSal National Forest must be displayed carefully because of its fragility.

Generally, the institution closest to the site where bones are found is selected to display them, Gillette said. Professional staff would be required and strict controls on humidity and other physical conditions, he said.

The skeleton probably will go to a museum, but that is yet to be decided, and the Forest Service is accepting proposals from the competing areas, Gillette said.

Meanwhile, with a Forest Service grant the state is stabilizing the bones, which are still moist - a project that should take about six months, Gillette said.

"Once that is accomplished, the Forest Service is going to sponsor a molding and casting operation, to give exact duplicates to every community that wants one," he said. "This is a reasonable solution, I think."

Gillette said the find turned into a political problem after officials from several communities demanded possession of the skeleton, 99 percent of which was recovered intact.

"Some politicians got involved, some museums got involved," Gillette said. Most of the areas were more interested in potential economic benefit rather than educational or research purposes, he said.

Some people recognized the conditions required and realized they were making "irrational demands," Gillette said.

Utah could end up losing altogether if agreement cannot be reached, he said.

"One recommendation to the Forest Service is the potential for depositing (the skeleton) at the Smithsonian, the national Museum of Natural History. So if several communities continue fighting, we could send it to the national depository," Gillette said.

"That way we all win - or lose."