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Washington • A new poll shows a majority of Utahns support President Barack Obama naming the Bears Ears region as a new national monument and that most residents also now back the once controversial Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The survey, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, finds 55 percent of Utahns support the idea of protecting Bears Ears in southeastern Utah with a national monument designation. Some 41 percent oppose such a move.
The poll comes less than a month after members of Utah's congressional delegation introduced legislation to protect part of the region in an attempt to halt a monument designation that could be much larger in scope. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also visited the area in July to tour the region and hold a town-hall meeting to gauge residents' input on how best to protect the area.
Asked about the poll, released Thursday, Josh Ewing, executive director of the Friends of Cedar Mesa, which supports a new monument, said that safeguarding treasured landscapes isn't a popularity contest.
"There are certain things that are the right thing to do whether it's popular or not," Ewing noted. "That said, it's good to see 55 percent believe it's good to protect this as a national monument."
The poll numbers would be in the 90s, Ewing added, if the question was simply do you want to protect the Bears Ears area because while there are differences in approach, he said, nearly all Utahns want to preserve the region.
As part of the survey, respondents were given statements for and against a monument to see what points resonated with Utahns.
When asked in a supportive way about Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz's legislation versus an "overly restrictive" national monument "without any local input," nearly two-thirds said they would support the legislation.
Chaffetz, in a statement, said it's clear that all sides want to see that the land near Bears Ears is protected and the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) legislation wins out in this poll.
"The question is whether you want a monument controlled by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats or local management as provided for in PLI," Chaffetz said. "This poll shows that when citizens are given the choice, a supermajority agree PLI is the right approach."
When respondents were told that Utah political leaders initially opposed protecting Zion, Capitol Reef and Arches national parks but now they are well-known examples of Utah's beauty and draw millions of tourists, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said that was a convincing argument to support Bears Ears as a monument.
The Public Opinion Strategies survey of 600 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.94 percentage points.
A majority of those polled came from Utah's most populous counties. Less than 1 percent of respondents were from San Juan County, where Bears Ears is located. The county has an estimated population of about 15,000 out of 3 million statewide. The pollster said it did oversample in "select counties" in southeastern Utah.
A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll in June showed a much more split result when Utah voters were asked if they supported a Bears Ears National Monument.
Then, a third backed a monument while 39 opposed it. Some 28 percent were unsure.
The Pew Charitable Trusts also polled on voters' impressions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which then-President Bill Clinton named in 1996 after virtually no consultation with Utah political leaders. The designation was widely controversial in the state at the time and then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Orton blamed his election loss that year on the monument designation.
Now, the poll shows, some 52 percent of Utahns believe the monument was good for the state while 23 percent said it was bad.
About 70 percent said Grand Staircase has had a positive effect on Utah tourism and on the state's wildlife and environment.
Pew Charitable Trusts has criticized the Public Lands Initiative and suggested several changes to make it more palatable. The group said if the bill can't be improved and passed this year, it supports Obama naming a Bears Ears National Monument under his authority in the Antiquities Act.