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IRONWOOD FOREST NATIONAL MONUMENT — President Donald Trump’s executive order to review 27 national monuments for potential downsizing or elimination touched a sensitive political nerve in Arizona.

Arizonans want good jobs, but a recent poll suggests that most also want wild places and a clean environment even at the cost of economic growth.

The poll, conducted for the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust in conjunction with The Arizona Republic, found overwhelming support for preserving Arizona’s natural resources. It also uncovered an often wide divide between voters and the leaders they have elected, particularly on contentious issues such as climate change.

Although the poll was conducted before Trump’s order, the findings suggest many Arizonans would oppose efforts to abolish the monuments.

Preservationists joined U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, R-Ariz., at the monument in his district northwest of Tucson earlier this month to insist on its continued protection.

“We as desert people have an executive order from the creator,” Tohono O’odham Nation Vice Chairman Verlon Jose said at Ironwood, a monument named for the flowering desert tree that provides shade and nesting habitat. “We must and shall protect this pristine desert.”

Several of Arizona’s Republican congressional representatives have championed the review or even elimination of monuments, while Grijalva and others say what Arizonans really want is protected open spaces.

As Grijalva and the monument supporters spoke at the base of the scrubby rock outcrops of the protected Waterman Mountains, two dump trucks rumbled up the nearby dirt road toward a landscape rock quarry permitted before then-President Bill Clinton created the monument in 2000.

“The American people are sending a very clear message,” Wilderness Society Arizona Director Mike Quigley said. “Stop. Enough already.”

Some of those sentiments emerged in the poll, a survey that revealed high levels of public support for numerous environmental protections, including preservation of public lands and protections for air and water.

Almost everyone among the 800 Arizonans polled by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy agreed with the statement, “Arizona’s parks, preserves, forests and open spaces are important.” Only 3 percent disagreed, while 72 percent said they were “very important” and 25 percent described them as “somewhat important.”

Most went further, with 68 percent agreeing that “protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing economic growth.” Twenty-two percent held the opposite view, giving economic growth priority over the environment.

About a tenth of those surveyed said “protecting the state’s air and water quality, land use and wildlife” should be the governor’s and Legislature’s “top priority.” Slightly more, 12.38 percent, listed “attracting and retaining businesses and jobs.”

Eighty-nine percent of them said they were either very or somewhat concerned about air quality in Arizona’s largest cities and towns.

Views of voters, leaders diverge

Morrison conducted the poll March 13-18 as The Republic began work on environmental coverage supported by a three-year grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

READ MORE: Support will help us answer environmental questions

Respondents identified politically as 35 percent independent, 34 percent Republican and 31 percent Democratic.

In many cases, the strong support for government protection of natural resources runs counter to legislative initiatives, some of which have sought to ease regulation on air and water quality and open public lands to commercial development.

Six in 10 poll respondents rated as “fair” or “poor” the work of the governor and Legislature in their care for natural resources.

One of the sharpest differences between public opinion and those of lawmakers was found in questions about climate change. Arizona lawmakers dismantled climate-change initiatives created by former Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, and generally opposed attempts by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases.

In the poll, most of those surveyed agreed that government should “do more to combat climate change.” More than 70 percent said the federal government should do more, and more than 69 percent said the state government should, too. Nearly two-thirds agreed that “climate change is one of the most serious problems facing the world today.”

Three-quarters of Arizonans asked said they believed the Earth’s temperature is rising and, of those, 79 percent attributed the warming to human activities.

Long-simmering resentment

The president’s order to review monuments followed long-simmering resentment against Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s designation of national monuments in the Southwest — most recently last year’s protection of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

The review targets all monuments of at least 100,000 acres established by a president since 1996. That stretches back far enough to include Grand Staircase-Escalante, the last monument to anger Utah Republicans. But it also includes Arizona’s Ironwood, Sonoran Desert, Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Canyon-Parashant.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke already has announced he will not recommend shrinking Grand Canyon-Parashant.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., joined 25 other senators in signing a May 19 letter to the president supporting his order to review the monuments. They noted that the 1906 law that authorized presidents to create monuments intended to set aside the “smallest area necessary,” and they said Obama alone had protected enough federal lands and waters to cover an area almost twice the size of Texas.

“We urge you to keep all remedies on the table as you consider how to correct past abuses of the Antiquities Act and work with Congress to ensure a more measured approach is taken and required in the future,” they wrote.

On June 30, 17 U.S. representatives, including Arizona Republicans Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Trent Franks wrote to Zinke with detailed critiques and recommendations for each monument. They wanted the president to eliminate each of the four Arizona monuments — an action that no president has ever tried and that environmentalists have promised to challenge in court.

They said Clinton’s protection of 128,917 acres of federal land at Ironwood Forest had prevented future mineral and geothermal development along with off-highway vehicle use, while also blocking access to some state lands. They added that Arizona Game and Fish officials have had trouble effectively managing wildlife in the monument.

They wrote that the original good intentions behind the Antiquities Act have “transformed into a tyrannical tool that presidents have manipulated to exercise unfettered land grabs to the detriment of state and local interests.”

‘… a lot invested in this landscape’

Ironwood Forest’s backers say it and the other monuments were hardly forced on Arizona by Washington, and that there was virtually no local opposition to them.

Sandy Bahr, the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter director, described how a group of locals joined her in the last few years to rip non-native buffelgrass from the monument to help prevent catastrophic wildfires and protect a small, endangered barrel cactus that grows there. They have also placed rows of small rocks as check dams to spread scarce rainfall and regrow native shrubs.

“We have a lot invested in this landscape,” she said.

William Thornton, a 73-year-old Tucson resident, looked across the hills and saw a rare, untouched piece of the Sonoran-like areas where his dad first brought him to appreciate Arizona’s nature.

“It’s a nice, beautiful, unspoiled piece of the desert,” he said. “Places where my dad and I used to hike have gone under the bulldozer — subdivided — decades ago,” he said.

“I’m a cactus hugger.”

Environmental coverage on and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow the azcentral and Arizona Republic environmental reporting team at OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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