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Washington • Most Utahns oppose the designation of a new national monument in the state, though Democrats and independents support such a presidential decree to secure a big swath of land.
A new poll by Utah Policy shows 58 percent of Utahns "definitely" or "probably" oppose President Barack Obama using his executive authority to name a new monument in the state as he has in several areas of the country so far. About 32 percent of those who were polled said they support such a move.
The contrast is stark when it comes to party identity.
Those describing themselves as Republicans, by a margin of 74 percent to 18 percent, said they don't want Obama to use the power under the Antiquities Act to name a new monument in Utah, while 73 percent of those aligned with the Democratic Party want Obama to use such authority. A majority (56 percent) of independent adults polled by Utah Policy said they oppose a new monument.
But self-described political "moderates" slightly favored presidential action, 42 percent to 41 percent, the poll found.
Obama has used his executive authority to name 19 monuments to preserve 260 million acres of public lands and waters, the most of any president. And Obama has said he will continue to do so.
"I am not finished," Obama said in 2014 as he announced a new monument in New Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz a Utah Republican who represents part of an area that some tribal leaders and conservation groups want protected said the poll results support what Utahns want: a locally driven process and not one that comes down from the White House.
"The poll seems accurate to me," Chaffetz said Tuesday. "Process matters, and a unilateral designation is not fair. Utahns deserve better."
Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, have been trying to seek a compromise among developers, local leaders and environmental groups to set aside some lands in eastern and southern Utah one that would allow other land to be used for oil and gas exploration.
For his part, Bishop said the popularity, or lack thereof, for a new monument is beside the point and that no president should have the power to unilaterally designate millions of acres of public land as a monument.
"Anyone who supports the Antiquities Act is constitutionally challenged and philosophically hypocritical," said Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who adds that Congress needs to revisit all monument designations Obama has made without local support or public process.
Obama administration officials recently met with several American Indian leaders in southeastern Utah to hear their pitch for protecting nearly 2 million acres of a region called Bears Ears.
Such talk caused fear in some corners of the state where controversy still boils over President Bill Clinton's use of the Antiquities Act in 1996 to name the 1.8 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Gov. Gary Herbert recently sent a letter to Obama urging the president to not use the Antiquities Act in Utah, though Herbert's office said it was unaware of any pending action.
State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the poll should be labeled what it is: biased. He said the phrasing including the beginning of the question, "Governor Herbert recently sent a letter to President Obama urging the president not to use executive authority to designate a new national monument in Utah" skewed the results.
"I thought the question was phrased in a way to illicit the response they got," said Dabakis, who noted that Utah Policy is owned by a registered lobbyist. "I don't have any doubts about the answers. But it started with such a rigged premise."
Had the question been asked whether Utahns want to preserve treasured landscapes, the answer would be different, said Dabakis, who plans an early October meeting with the White House to ask the president to designate a new monument in Utah.
UtahPolicy managing editor Bryan Schott defended the survey, noting it was conducted by veteran pollster Dan Jones & Associates.
"There is no agenda behind our polling whatsoever. To allege that we were hoping for a particular response is disingenuous and designed to distract from results that Sen. Dabakis does not agree with," Schott said.
University of Utah political scientist Tim Chambless said the more interesting part of the poll is that the younger generation supported a new monument. Respondents who are ages 18 to 24 years old backed a monument 51 percent to 34 percent, the poll showed.
And since Utah is the youngest state in the nation, the next generation might be more inclined toward preservation, Chambless said.
That said, the political scientist noted that Obama, now in his last term, isn't likely to be swayed by such polls.
"He has less than a year and half left in his term," Chambless noted, "and he's using the bully pulpit and using executive orders. I don't think he's going to be constrained by a political poll."