Utah Governor Out of Step with Utah Voters Who Broadly Support National Monuments

Feb 26, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

This week, Utah Governor Gary Herbert traveled to Washington, D.C., to hand-deliver a letter to President Obama urging him to refrain from creating any new national monuments in Utah.

His comments were specifically directed towards the proposed Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah. After the area was largely overlooked by Representative Rob Bishop’s (R-UT) Utah Public Lands Initiative, an inter-tribal coalition—including 25 tribes with direct ancestral ties to the region—unveiled a proposal calling for President Obama to protect the Bears Ears area as a national monument.

But support doesn’t end with the tribes, according to a recent poll from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, the push for a national monument is backed by two thirds of all Utah voters.

bears ears

Still, Governor Herbert continues to oppose any national monument designation in Utah, insisting that any action by the president would “completely short-circuit” Representative Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative—which has been widely panned as an insidious attack on public lands. As Congressman Bishop continues to dither, Utahns want to see Bears Ears receive the protections it deserves.

Anti-monument rhetoric, like that coming from Governor Herbert and Rep. Bishop, runs deep among Utah politicians. When President Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in 1996, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called the designation “a sneak attack on the State of Utah” and “the mother of all land grabs.”

But the fact of the matter is, while many of Utah’s elected officials lean on knee-jerk opposition to national monuments, the voters simply do not feel the same way.

Polling from the State of the Rockies Project demonstrates consistent support for Utah’s national monuments. In 2012, an overwhelming 96 percent of voters agreed that national monuments are an essential part of Utah’s quality of life. In 2015, 70 percent of voters said they would stand behind future presidential designations of national monuments in Utah.

And today, a plurality of Utah voters think the decision to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was a “good thing,” with only 25 percent maintaining that the decision was a “bad thing.”

round rock formations

Governor Herbert maintains that any national monument designation from President Obama would “set back progress.” But when it comes down to it, progress is being made despite the best efforts of the Governor and members of the Utah delegation to stand in the way of public land protections. Utahns support their existing and future national monuments.

If President Obama chooses to designate Bears Ears National Monument, it will be at the behest of local advocates and have the support of the majority of Utah voters.

Photos of Bears Ears: Keith Cuddeback (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)