The head the U.S. Forest Service's Intermountain Region has approved a plan by Utah wildlife officials to transplant elk into the Blue Mountains near Canyonlands National Park.

The Utah Wildlife Resources Division's decision to move about 150 elk into the remote mountains in southeastern Utah during the next two years had been approved by the supervisor of the Manti-La Sal National Forest.But Forest Service spokesman Wallace Shiverdecker said Thursday that about two dozen stockmen from San Juan County appealed that decision to Regional Forester Stan Tixier.

The Blue Mountains area "is a popular deer hunting area," Shiverdecker said. "But there are only a few elk in the area, and the state division wanted to build up the herd rapidly to allow elk hunting."

In rejecting the stockmen's appeal, Tixier said, "The issue involved concerns that elk and livestock in the area would be in direct competition for forage, resulting in negative impacts on the range and the (livestock) industry.

"Our evaluation indicates that, although a potential conflict exists, the risk is minimal."

The division, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management had determined the area about 300 miles southeast of Salt Lake City could support a herd of about 1,000 elk without any serious impact on livestock grazing.

"Our studies show elk stay away from cattle and feed in the steeper terrain and in the more heavily forested areas," Shiverdecker said.

Once the elk population reaches about 400 animals, the division said, the area would be opened to limited hunting, to allow the herd to continue increasing.

"We are confident that field monitoring of range conditions will allow us to determine if the 1,000 figure is appropriate," Tixier said. "The benchmark will be lowered appropriately if negative impacts begin to appear."