The Bureau of Land Management plans to change the way it operates in its Pony Express Resource Area, which encompasses more than 2 million acres of federal land in Tooele, Utah and Salt Lake counties.

According to a draft resource management plan and draft environmental impact statement, the BLM would like to reduce the amount of land it has earmarked for disposal, set aside three new "areas of critical environmental concern" and slightly reduce the region in which off-road vehicles can operate freely.The plan spells out this policy on hazardous waste: "BLM will not authorize the placement or processing of hazardous wastes on public lands. As sites are identified and accidental or intentional dumping or spills occur, BLM will respond as required by law and pursue cleanup by the responsible party."

The agency will emphasize safety and environmental protection, the plan says. So if any hazardous waste companies are to operate in Tooele County, as many have proposed, they will have to be on private land or property acquired from the BLM.

Open houses to discuss the plan are scheduled for June 28, 2-4 p.m., in the city commission chambers, Provo; June 28, 7-9 p.m. in the Tooele County Courthouse; and June 29, 7-9 p.m. in the fire station, Wendover Air Force Base.

No discussion session is set for Salt Lake County because only a tiny amount of land in that county is managed by the BLM.

Written comments are due by Aug. 15 at the BLM Salt Lake District office, 2370 S. 23rd West, Salt Lake City, UT 84119.

The plan covers 2,032,899 acres of BLM land in the southern half of the Salt Lake District.

It analyzes four alternatives: 1. current management, 2. "development of resources while protecting or enhancing environmental values," 3. giving priority to resource use and production, and 4. giving priority to protecting environmental values.

Alternative 2 is the BLM's preferred option.

Under it, 9,088 acres would be identified for disposal, down from the 85,161 acres in Tooele County that would be recommended for disposal if present practices continue.

Also, areas of critical environmental concern would be designated: Horseshoe Springs, 760 acres; North Stansbury Mountains, 10,000 acres; and North Deep Creek Mountains, 28,260 acres.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are an area of critical environmental concern of 30,203 acres, the only one designated so far in the resource area.

"As much land as possible would be made available to off-road vehicle use while protecting areas where damage to resources values would be unacceptable," the plan says.

The BLM proposes to leave 1,669,267 acres open to ORV use, compared with 1,725,655 acres now open. However, while 31,860 acres would be closed under present management, no land would be closed under the preferred alternative.

Areas where only limited ORV use is permitted amount to 275,191 acres now; this would rise to 363,439 acres under Alternative 2.

Presently, parts of the Deep Creek and Stansbury mountains are designated closed to off-road vehicles. Under the plan, these would become open to limited ORV use - that is, open only in certain seasons when wildlife isn't breeding, or limited to existing trails during certain times.

Some areas, such as antelope habitat in Puddle Valley, Tooele County, would not be open to organized events. In the North Deep Creeks, ORVs would have to stay on designated roads and trails.

The environmental option, Alternative 4, would have left 1,669,287 acres open to ORV use, closed 117,520 acres and designated 245,899 acres where use would be limited.

The resource use proposal, Alternative 3, would have 1,957,656 acres open, none closed, and 75,050 acres for limited use.

Land earmarked for disposal in the preferred alternative would reduce wildlife habitat.

According to the plan, 285 acres of crucial mule deer winter range and 1,990 acres of sage grouse strutting territory (important to mating rituals) would be removed from federal management.

"Chukar and antelope habitat would be lost with the disposal of Tract 17. On 442,780 acres that would be retained as public land . . . wildlife habitats would be preserved."

The draft environmental statement says 1,990 acres of pheasant habitat could be improved with disposal of certain tracts.