SALT LAKE CITY — A UtahPolicy.com poll shows that Utahns do not want President Barack Obama to declare a Bears Ears national monument and instead want protections for the region to be put in place by Congress.
The poll by Dan Jones & Associates asked respondents to weigh in on three options for the rugged area in southeastern Utah: monument designation, passage of a public lands bill or simply leaving the landscape managed as it is by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Results show that 19 percent want Obama to declare the monument of 1.9 million acres, and 35 percent want passage of the public lands initiative sponsored by Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. That bill sets up land use designations for 18 million acres in seven eastern Utah counties and includes a national conservation area designation for 1.4 million acres in the Bears Ears region.
The poll also showed that a large number of those surveyed — 29 percent — want nothing done with the region beyond the way it is currently managed by federal agencies. The poll of 858 adult Utahns was conducted July 18 through Aug. 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.34 percent.
What to do, or not to do, with the Bears Ears region in San Juan County has become a touchstone of political controversy in Utah. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing five Native American tribes, is pushing for a monument designation to protect land they say is sacred.
The Utah Legislature, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, the state congressional delegation, San Juan County and multiple rural leaders are vehemently opposed to any additional layers of federal control they say is unnecessary and will only cut off access.
Multiple environmental organizations say a monument designation is the only way to preserve the landscape from potash mining, oil and gas development and off-highway vehicle use that is destroying ancient artifacts.
Critics fear, and supporters hope, that Obama will designate the Bears Ears monument using his authority under the Antiquities Act before he leaves office.
Just this week, Obama declared a new national monument in Maine and quadrupled the size of a marine monument in Hawaii.
The Obama administration has promised no designation will occur without getting local input, so Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited the region in July, convening multiple "listening" sessions with residents and elected officials.
The poll by UtahPolicy.com is the latest effort to take the pulse of public opinion on a region punctuated by vast expanses of rocky inclines, forested meadows, red rock buttes and yawning stretches of cedar trees.
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, dismissed the poll results and characterized them as an attempt by opponents to push an agenda he said is clearly not supported by the public.
"What is important is to decide if it is a good idea or not. Based on what past monuments have done for Utah, whether it is Arches National Park or Grand Staircase-Escalante, conservation gains are always controversial at the time. They become viewed as wise things with the passage of time," he said.
"So I don't know how much this poll adds to the discussion."
Bishop said the poll results illustrate the majority of public support is not behind a monument designation and Obama is simply creating monuments because he can.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaking on KSL's “The Doug Wright Show,” said it would be folly to create a nearly 2 million-acre "anchor" in a process that is not legitimate.