The Edward Abbey Wilderness.

In a press conference Friday about wilderness, conservationist Ken Sleight, Moab, said the name has a ring to it, honoring the famous author who died this week and fought to protect Utah wild areas. Sleight read a note to that effect from several environmentalists.A week or so ago, Sleight spoke with Abbey, who is the hero of Utah wilderness fans. Abbey was "very enthused about getting on with the drive to see that we did have wilderness - our land protected. He wanted to be here, I'm sure. He wanted to see this bill introduced.

"I wish he could have lived just a little longer - or you could be a little bit earlier."

The "you" he mentioned was Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who introduced a bill Thursday to designate 5.1 million acres of Utah's Bureau of Land Management land as wilderness.

Owens responded that he didn't know Abbey was ill. "Had we known this . . . I'd have hustled up and done this a week ago," he said.

Owens promised he would amend his bill to select some rugged and beautiful wild area in its heart to carry the name Edward Abbey Wilderness.

"Some people express concern over creating new wilderness," Owens said. "Wilderness is not created by legislation, it's the work of God and nature, usually over millions of years.

"Legislation simply serves to protect existing wilderness."

He quoted President John Kennedy that it is our task to hand undiminished to those who come after us, the natural beauty and wealth that is ours. Owens also quoted Brigham Young to the effect that it's immoral and foolish to destroy what we cannot replace.

All the land in his bill is already public, he said. The issues presented by the bill are the quality of stewardship that will guide their management, and concern to pass along to future generations an "uncompromised wilderness," Owens added.

Rick Reese, a publisher who spoke representing 77 local, state and national environmental groups, said it's appropriate that Owens introduced his bill this year, as it's the 25th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

"The special Utah wildlands identified in this legislation encompass ten geographical regions of our state. The bill calls for the creation of 42 wilderness areas in these regions," Reese said.

"Anyone can use wilderness for the price of a pair of shoes. Many of the areas proposed in Congressman Owens' bill are easily accessible. Some include gentle terrain," he said.

"In some areas one can drive right to the wilderness boundary."

Asked whether his acreage figures are inflated, as charged by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, Owens said he believes wilderness is the best use for all the areas in his bill, and that he would fight for protection there. But he acknowledged that to pass Congress, the bill should have the support of the entire congressional delegation and governor.

He said wilderness proponents could make the same kind of allegations about Hansen's proposal of 1.4 million acres - that it is set too low to allow adjustments upward during negotiations.