In an era of hyperpartisan debate, it feels rare for an issue to generate broad consensus or cut across political, geographic, and demographic lines. But apparently the Grand Canyon, one of the country's oldest and most iconic national parks, is that issue.
According to a new bipartisan poll released this week by the Democratic-leaning polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) and the Republican-leaning American Viewpoint, not only do 93 percent of likely U.S. voters believe the Grand Canyon is an important national treasure, but 82 percent support creating a 1.7-million-acre national monument just outside of Grand Canyon National Park: 56 percent say they "strongly" support it and 4 percent are undecided.
When broken down by political affiliation, 89 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans, and 73 percent of Independents say they support the creation of the monument.
"There is really a broad consensus among different parts of this electorate that the monument is a valuable step," says Dave Metz of FM3, adding that 80 percent of men, 83 percent of women, 82 percent of white voters, and 79 percent of nonwhite voters say they support the monument.
Also noteworthy: 73 percent of hunters and anglers say they support the monument, along with 86 percent of those who live in cities, 86 percent of those who live in small towns, and 81 percent of those who live in rural areas.
"We also wanted to see: Does it withstand the pro and con debate that might take place? So we tested the language of things supporters and opponents have used, and still found that more that 68 percent of voters support it even after hearing opposition argument," says Metz.
In other words, after voters were read a description of why some people are opposed to the monument, a clear majority still said they support it.
"It's so rare to see this high of level of support for an issue," says Randall Gutermuth of American Viewpoint. "Really, it's a rarity to see something resonating like this."
The Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument would offer greater federal protection to 1.7 million acres of public land in the Grand Canyon watershed, an area that includes hundreds of springs, critical wildlife habitat, and more than 3,000 Native American antiquity sites. And while it would permanently ban new uranium mining near the North and South rims, most grazing and some extractive industries like timber would continue to be allowed. Monument status would not affect public recreation in the area.
Almost exactly a year ago, after working for months with tribal and conservation stakeholders, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who represents Arizona's Third Congressional District, submitted a bill that would create the monument. Most agree the legislation is unlikely to go anywhere, and in recent months, many have begun urging President Barack Obama to create the monument through executive order.
Regardless of how the monument is created, supporters — which include the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo, and Hopi tribes as well as a large coalition of environmental and conservation groups — say the monument would be a net plus for the region. An independent study conducted last year found that the monument could generate $51 million annually for the northern Arizona economy through tourism and myriad affiliated industries.
But those who oppose the monument — a group led primarily by Rep. Paul Gosar, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and the mining industry — argue that it would kill jobs and the local economy, hurt tourism, harm the agricultural and mining industries, and prevent hunting and fishing.
Most of the opposition's claims don't pass muster.
"The pushback on the designation comes with a lot of myth, and if you look at the legislation, many of the things that are brought up [by the opposition] are not based in fact," says Rep. Grijalva, a Tucson native who has worked with tribes and conservation groups to spearhead the monument effort. He believes those opposed to the monument hold those views for philosophical rather than economic or environmental reasons.
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"No amount of facts, no amount of public opinion polls is going to change the minds of people who are philosophically opposed to idea that the federal government should [control] any lands within a state," Grijalva says.
Havasupai Councilwoman Carletta Tilousi agrees. "I simply feel that they're not reading the document," she says. "They need to take the time to read it thoroughly, rather than making statements [about it] that don't make sense."
The important takeaway, both Grijalva and Tilousi say, is that despite any negative message or propagated myths about the monument, the vast majority of people across the nation favor its creation. A similar poll conducted in February found that 80 percent of Arizonans support or strongly support the monument.
"The idea of making sure that the Grand Canyon is there for generations to come and that it's protected is a unifying idea," says Grijalva. "I think we'll look back on [a monument designation] with same historical perspective that we look back on Teddy Roosevelt's decision" to make the Grand Canyon a national park.
While Grijalva says he's confident Obama will take action before leaving office, the Congressman says that even if the president does not, "This movement doesn't die. There's too much at stake."