Flying in the face of those who claim it would be unpopular to give the greater Grand Canyon watershed national monument status, a new nonpartisan poll finds that not only is there tremendous support for it but that it cuts across geographical and political lines.
“The results were overwhelming, and they demonstrated both strong and broad support [in] Arizona,” says Dave Metz of the research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, which polled hundreds of Arizona voters in January.
The pollsters discovered that 80 percent of Arizona voters support or strongly support the Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument, as outlined in a bill U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives last year.
Grijalva brought together a broad coalition of native tribes, environmental groups, and local stakeholders to design the bill, which if passed, would permanently protect 1.7 million acres of land and prevent any new uranium mines.“More than half of Arizonans say more needs to be done to protect air, land, and water around the Grand Canyon, and they clearly see establishing that monument as an effective way of reaching that goal,” Metz says, adding that “the sentiment that the area around the Grand Canyon needs protection has grown over time.”
A similar poll conducted in 2009 found only 43 percent of people supported it, and a poll last year found that 73 percent of Arizonans support it.
Local native tribes and environmental groups have talked about wanting national monument status for the Grand Canyon for years, and Grijalva’s efforts to make it a reality have solicited nothing short of a political firestorm among enemies of the bill.
Leading the charge is U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar, who has railed against the monument proposal for months. Gosar claims it would cost hundreds of jobs, destroy the local economy, and hinder sportsmen or other recreational users of the area.
In an interview earlier this year, Grijalva told New Times that Gosar’s “opposition is based on myths” and that he “needs to own up to the fact that he’s on the fringe of every public-land argument we have in this country.”
The benefit of this, Grijalva explained, helps “put the opposition of some in context with many . . . It’s important to deal with what the public wants and thinks, as opposed to letting this discussion be mired in half-truths, false information, and the sheer cry from opposition that doesn’t represent the vast majority of the people in Arizona.”
Both Metz and Grijalva say they were impressed by the broad appeal of the monument, as men and women across the state expressed support for the idea of national monuments in general and the Grand Canyon monument in particular.
According to the poll results, there is support for the Grand Canyon monument among:
- 76 percent of men and 84 percent of women,
- 65 percent of registered Republicans, 84 percent of independents, and 95 percent of Democrats,
- 78 percent of people living in Congressional District 1, which is where the proposed monument would be,
- 79 percent of white voters, 86 percent of Latino voters, and 87 percent of all voters of color, including Native Americans,
- 81 percent of people living in urban areas, 83 percent in suburban areas, 79 percent in small towns, and 73 percent in rural areas,
- And 76 percent of hunters and anglers.
Unlike past polls, this most recent one also asked voters how their opinion of elected officials could be influenced by a vote for or against the monument:
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“Voters were three times as likely to say they would support a politician who backed the establishment of the monument,” Metz says. “So not only do voters indicate that it’s a good idea, but they say that they’ll be more supportive of members of Congress who act to make the monument reality.”
Last year, Grijalva, along with Arizona U.S. Representatives Ann Kirkpatrick and Ruben Gallego, authored a public letter detailing their support for the monument. In the months since, however, Kirkpatrick has distanced herself from that stance, explaining that she’s still considering the statements of many local stakeholders.
But with public opinion clearly on his side, Grijalva says he’s ready to continue the fight: “As we go forward, we have strong support from the people in Arizona, the first nations most affected by this monument designation, [as well as] hunters and anglers and people that use our public land.
"I think we can start to put aside the shrill debate that occurs on this issue” and start taking “the steps to build [more] public support.”