Utah tries to maintain large enough buffalo herds to allow limited hunting without endangering the numbers of the huge animals roaming the Henry Mountains and on Great Salt Lake's Antelope Island.

But that was before wildlife biologists discovered a new gene in the Antelope Island herd, a genetic variation that makes a few of those animals different from all other North American buffalo."That's causing problems with the hunter's choice option on Antelope Island," Jerry Miller, state Parks and Recreation Division director, said Saturday. "We want to protect those more valuable buffalo."

If a hunter gets to pick the Antelope Island buffalo he wants, said Miller, "he might shoot one of the buffalo carrying the new gene, and they're the most profitable animals to us."

The division wants to sell some of the buffalo that have been determined to carry the gene variety different from the eight other genetic chromosome patterns found in buffalo herds throughout the United States and Canada.

About one in five of the approximately 400 Antelope Island buffalo carry the gene. Miller said they can be sold for from $2,500 to $5,000 each as breeding animals, to increase the genetic variety in other herds.

Utah's other buffalo herd, of about 400 animals in the Henry Mountains 200 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, does not contain the newly discovered gene.

The Henry Mountains herd is managed by the state Wildlife Resources Division, while Parks and Recreation controls hunting on Antelope Island, a state park 15 miles northwest of Salt Lake.

Each herd is maintained at about 400 animals - through hunting, transplants to other states and sales - to protect wildlife habitat.

Although the Parks and Recreation Division allowed hunter's choice hunting of 10 Antelope Island buffalo this year, Miller said the division's board is considering a one-year hunting moratorium to protect the island herd.

The board will meet in January, he said, "and the members are leaning toward the moratorium. The feeling is we don't want to allow hunters to shoot the more valuable animals."