New analysis shows national monument support dominates public comment period

More than 99% of comments gathered back Bears Ears and other national monuments

Cedar Mesa Grand Gulch, Bureau of Land Management

As 15-day public comment period on the designation of Bears Ears National Monument comes to a close, a new analysis of comments submitted and gathered so far reveals nearly unanimous support for the monument.

The Center for Western Priorities analyzed a representative sample of the roughly 90,000 comments submitted so far at regulations.gov (n=500). Of those comments, 96 percent expressed support for national monument designations, while three percent expressed opposition to monument designations. Roughly half (48.4 percent) of the comments submitted so far refer specifically to Bears Ears National Monument, with a similar 97-to-3 ratio in support among those comments.

While regulations.gov reflects 90,000 individual comments, dozens of concerned groups are also gathering public comments to submit to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump as part of the monuments review. A survey of those groups reveals more than 685,000 additional public comments in support of Bears Ears, and tens of thousands more supporting other national monuments. When uploaded to regulations.gov, however, each bundle will display as a single comment. The Center for Western Priorities is not aware of any anti-monument groups engaged in similar comment bundling ahead of Friday’s deadline.

Combined, support for national monument designations will account for more than 99% of all public comments gathered during the 15-day comment window for Bears Ears.

Bears Ears National Monument was protected by President Barack Obama in December 2016, following years of advocacy by five Native American tribes, and the failure of the Utah Public Lands Initiative bill in Congress.

In May 2017, President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Zinke to review 21 years of national monument designations, bookended by two Utah monuments, Grand Staircase–Escalante and Bears Ears. At the time, Trump said he was “signing a new executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power.” Since then, monument opponents have confirmed the outcome of the review is preordained, including San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who said that Zinke told him, “Not only should [Bears Ears] be rescinded, but we’re not going to stop there.”

As part of his review, Zinke opened a 60-day public comment period, with just a 15-day window for comments on Bears Ears specifically. A majority of residents on tribal land don’t have access to broadband internet, limiting their ability to participate in the comment process.

The most recent public polling available reveals strong support within Utah for keeping Bears Ears as a national monument, at its current size, with support outweighing opposition 64 percent to 30 percent. An even greater number of Utah voters expressed support for keeping the current number of national monuments in the state, 68 percent to 28 percent.

The Center for Western Priorities’ sentiment analysis was performed on a snapshot of comments at regulation.gov as of 10:00 am MDT Wednesday. 500 comments were chosen at random and analyzed for support or opposition to monument designations, as well as references to Bears Ears specifically. The analysis has a margin of error of ±4 percent.

* Margin of error ±4%. 79,419 comments for random analysis were downloaded at Wednesday 10:00 am MDT. Totals may not add up to 100% because of rounding.
** Estimate based on total number of comments submitted to docket DOI-2017–0002 as of Thursday 2:30 pm MDT.
*** CWP is not aware of any anti-monument advocacy groups bundling comments. This analysis will be updated as needed. Of the 765,734 bundled comments, 685,317 (89%) mention Bears Ears specifically.