Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that a new Pew Charitable Trusts poll shows a slight majority of Utahns supports President Barack Obama in unilaterally designating the Bears Ears region as a national monument. The wording of the poll, however, is questionable.
Benenson Strategy Group (BSG), contracted by Pew to conduct the poll, asked 600 registered Utah voters the following question:
“There is currently a proposal being considered to designate other public land in Utah as a national monument. This land, south of Canyonlands National Park, is commonly referred to as the Bears Ears area. As a national monument, the land remains open for grazing, rights of way, hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities, but new development, mining and oil and gas drilling is prohibited. Do you support or oppose the idea to make Bears Ears area in Utah a protected national monument?”
Notice the second sentence, where BSG asserts that national monuments designations do not impact rights of way, outdoor recreation and grazing. This statement paints an inaccurate picture of monument restrictions and how these policies evolve over time. National monuments are notorious for closing down economic and recreational access. Utahns need look no further than our own Grand Staircase-Escalante to see the debilitating effects of these designations. ATV trails have been closed, camping is constrained, and cattle are being pushed off the range. These few examples only begin to demonstrate the impact of monuments on our state.
The Pew poll question gave respondents the impression that aside from new development and mineral extraction, San Juan County and the public will continue using the land as we always have, even after a monument designation. It is not a stretch to assume this false sense of security led 53 percent of participants to voice their opinion in support of the proposed monument. BSG’s poll was clearly designed to produce a specific outcome. But what can one expect from a company that, according to its own website, “marries language expertise with innovative research to frame choices so that your brand is the only answer.”
Screenshot from Benenson Strategy Group’s website taken on 8/23/16
Thankfully, Utahns can turn to a Dan Jones and Associates poll to get a more accurate representation of public opinion; in May it found that only 17 percent of participants wanted a monument, while 67 percent desired another way forward for the Bears Ears region. It is our opinion that such figures represent our state far more accurately than other polls floating around the internet. We encourage elected officials, Utahns, and others across the country to consider this when gauging public opinion.