Utah residents to Ryan Zinke: Hands off Bears Ears!

New analysis of submitted comments finds overwhelming in-state support for national monuments

Indian Creek, Bears Ears National Monument; Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

A new analysis of more than 100,000 individual comments submitted to regulations.gov finds Utah residents expressed overwhelming support for protecting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante national monuments.

In April, President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to begin a 120-day review of national monument designations dating back to 1996. Secretary Zinke must present a 45-day interim report on Bears Ears National Monument this coming weekend. During the 15-day public comment period on Bears Ears, more than 100,000 Americans submitted comments directly to regulations.gov. While the comment form did not require commenters to disclose their zip code or home state, a large number of commenters stated they were Utah residents.

A full-text search of those comments by the Center for Western Priorities found more than 1,200 self-identified Utahns. Of those Utah residents, 88 percent expressed support for keeping national monuments intact, while 11 percent requested President Trump shrink or rescind monuments.

Some politicians have claimed Utah voices were ignored in the creation of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante. The comments, however, reveal a different story: by nearly a nine-to-one margin, Utah residents support their national monuments.

The comments include hundreds of personal stories from Utahns who spend time in Bears Ears, including one who told Secretary Zinke:

“I am a Utah resident of 17 years and have spent many nights sleeping under the stars in the stunning landscape that is now called Bears Ears National Monument. I backpacked Beef Basin with the man who is now my husband when we first met. We spent nights camping in the Abajos for our daughter’s first birthday. With many more trips in between, this landscape is a part of my personal history. It must be preserved not just in the memories of those who have been there, but as it is for those who have yet to come. It is imperative that these landscapes are preserved. Protect Bears Ears and all the other monuments from your phony and immoral “review.”
Cedar Mesa Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument; Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

Another Utahn, who moved from Minnesota to Kanab, the gateway to Grand Staircase–Escalante, and now lives in Salt Lake City, eloquently wrote:

“See, life doesn’t just exist in the cities where the money flows, where the buildings rise taller every day, where people stack atop each other like Legos. Life exists in the rivers and washes that cut through the desert, in trees high up on a plateau that may never be seen, and on rock that traces the horizon. It’s a sense of stillness away from the chaos of city life, away from technology, and endless cell coverage. These quiet slices of life may not have a monetary value like oil, gas, or even cattle, but they are just as critical in today’s world. And they shouldn’t be up for grabs. Not everything needs a price tag.”

A survey of advocacy groups that are gathering comments as part of the public comment period now finds more than one million Americans have voiced their support for national monuments across the country. Those bundled comments will be fully submitted to the Department of the Interior at the close of the 60-day public comment period, which ends on July 9.

A previous analysis by the Center for Western Priorities found that in the closing days of the Bears Ears comment period, 96 percent of individual comments submitted to regulations.gov told Secretary Zinke and President Trump to keep or expand America’s national monuments. Including the bundled comments from advocacy groups, well over 99 percent of the total comments gathered expressed support for national monuments.

Methodology: The Center for Western Priorities downloaded the text of all comments submitted to regulations.gov on and prior to the May 26, 2017 deadline for comments on Bears Ears. A full-text search was performed for 27 terms, including “Utah resident,” “resident of Utah,” “live in Utah,” and variations including “San Juan County,” “Blanding,” “Monticello,” and “Bluff.” The 1,548 matching comments were then manually analyzed to confirm a statement of Utah residence, as well as support or opposition to national monument designations. After excluding matching comments that did not clearly state Utah residence, 1,280 comments from Utahns were used in this analysis. Since the Department of the Interior did not require commenters to reveal their state of residence, it cannot be considered a complete account of Utah responses to the public comment period.