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Associated Press

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Conservation groups will hold a public hearing on the Bureau of Land Management's plans for oil and gas development in the Jack Morrow Hills area of the Red Desert in southwestern Wyoming.

A coalition of environmentalists called Friends of the Red Desert organized the hearing Wednesday at the Albany County Public Library in Laramie.

Group members said the BLM would not hold a hearing on the plan in Laramie. The agency has held several hearings in Sweetwater and Fremont counties over the past year and recently scheduled more for those areas.

"There are a lot of people who love this remote corner of the Red Desert and who don't want to see it turned into another industrial wasteland," said Mac Blewer of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "These hearings offer an important opportunity for folks in Cheyenne and Laramie to tell the federal government how they want one of our last best places to be treated."

BLM officials planned to attend the meeting, which will be videotaped and submitted to the federal agency, officials said.

The BLM's supplemental draft environmental impact statement released in February would allow for development of more than 200 oil and gas wells in portions of the Red Desert over the next few decades.

The 620,000-acre Jack Morrow Hills is home to the largest migratory game herd in the lower 48 states, the largest desert elk herd in the world, the largest active sand dune system in North America, seven wilderness study areas, the Oregon, California and Mormon pioneer trails, and many Indian holy sites.

The area outlined in the plan includes Steamboat Mountain, Greater Sand Dunes, White Mountain Petroglyphs, a portion of the South Pass landscape, the Oregon Buttes, Greater Sand Dunes, Honeycomb Buttes, Buffalo Hump, Whitehorse Creek, South Pinnacles and Alkali Draw wilderness study areas, and three special management areas - Greater Sand Dunes, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and the Oregon/Mormon Pioneer/Pony Express/California National Historic Trails.

Public comments on the plan may be submitted in writing until May 23. Comments can be mailed to the BLM, Project Coordinator, 280 Highway 191 North, Rock Springs, WY 82901.

Copies of the document are available for public review online or at BLM offices in Rock Springs, Lander and Cheyenne.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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