SALT LAKE CITY — In the heart of Utah's red rock country, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will attempt on Wednesday to sell a skeptical Western audience on the economic benefits of conservation.

Even in Moab — a recreation mecca that thrives because of tourism — Salazar's push for creating jobs and building strong local economies through outdoor recreation and the protection of wild lands could struggle to find traction.

Salazar makes two public appearances in the state Wednesday.

In the morning, he will speak at a dedication ceremony for a new visitor's center at Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado border near Vernal, Utah. He is also expected to meet with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert at the same time.

In the afternoon, Salazar will spend a few hours in the Mill Creek Canyon wilderness study area east of Moab before participating in a public meeting with local leaders and outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

The visit is part of a tour of the Western U.S. by Salazar, who is trying to rally support for his plan to have county and state officials recommend areas ready for wilderness protections.

The plan was announced in June after Congress defunded Salazar's "Wild Lands" order, which could have expanded wilderness protections to millions of acres of public lands. That policy overturned a Bush-era approach that opened some Western lands to commercial development and was based, in part, on an agreement with former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt.

The proposal has not been warmly received in the West. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has told Salazar his state will not provide any recommendations, while Utah's congressional delegation said in a letter that the vast majority of people in their state "reject the Department's DC-centric, one-size-fits-all approach to wilderness designations."

Additionally, Utah has an active lawsuit against the Interior Department because of the Wild Lands order that Alaska and Wyoming have sought to join. Herbert has said the suit will not be withdrawn because the order remains on the books.

Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin .