A new poll shows most Utahns believe the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been a good thing, even as Congress debates a proposal that would require lawmakers' approval for future designations.
Created in September 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton, the 1.9-million acre monument in southern Utah's Kane and Garfield counties drew 800,000 visitors last year.
The poll, commissioned by the national group Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) and conducted by Utah-based Lighthouse Research, sampled 400 registered voters between Sept. 12 and 15. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Sixty-nine percent rated the monument as "very good" or "somewhat good" for the state. Only 16 percent believed it is "somewhat bad" or "very bad."
Most respondents 62 percent also believe the monument is an economic benefit, drawing tourists to the state as do other national parks. A recent study by the independent, nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics found that local economies improved in 17 communities where national monuments were designated during the past two decades.
Jim DiPesco, policy director for REP, said the poll was done to determine the level of support for not only Grand Staircase but also for the Antiquities Act of 1906, which Clinton used to create the monument by executive order.
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop and other members of Congress are pushing for legislation that would require congressional approval for the creation of monuments.
Resentment over the monument designation still lingers among some in southern Utah. During an anniversary party for Grand Staircase hosted Saturday in Kanab by the Bureau of Land Management, Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said access to monument lands has been a contentious issue from the beginning, when roads were closed by the BLM, which administers the park.
"All we want to do is preserve existing trails [for access], not create new ones," said Clayson. "This is a land of beauty and we hope any [future] plan for the monument is modified to make it great for the nation and the community."
But DiPesco says the poll shows that overall, Utahns are happy with the status quo.
"We found broad bipartisan support for the Antiquities Act and the monument," said DiPesco. "We want to show that it is a good law and the Grand Staircase a good thing."
He believes the poll shows Utahns want to preserve the state's redrock landscape and canyonlands and welcome the economic opportunities they provide.
"One point of attack when the [monument] was created was that it would be detrimental economically, but evidence shows it is beneficial," said DiPesco. "It puts communities on the map and people not aware of the treasure before now know about it and want to come and see it, staying in motels, and buying food and supplies."
DiPesco, speaking Monday from his office in Seattle, acknowledged there is lingering animosity over the monument, although historically, "even the most vociferous critics come around."
Philip Carlson, the Utah representative for REP, said the poll reflects what he believes was always the case conservatives support protecting public lands.
"In general [Republicans] appreciate [parks]," said Carlson. "I hope to see [GOP] leadership take a more active role in taking advantage of opportunities to protect the environment."
Poll shows support for Utah's newest monument
A new poll commissioned by Republicans for Environmental Protection surveyed 400 Utahns' views of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Some key findings:
69 percent • said the monument was "somewhat good" or "very good" for Utah.
62 percent • said it provides "somewhat positive" or "very positive" economic benefits to the state.
63 percent • said the monument protects recreational opportunities "somewhat" or "a great deal."