Poll: public lands matter to western voters

Zion National Park (Utah).

Credit: Djof, flickr.

A new survey finds that voters in western states heavily factor public lands conservation into their local, state and federal elections choices.

In the bipartisan poll, versions of which are sponsored annually by the Colorado College State of the Rockies project, respondents in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana largely affirmed that they carry their concern for wild land, water and air into the voting booth.

Among key results:

  • 85 percent agreed that the government restricting access to national parks and other public lands hurts small businesses and communities’ economies in the West.
  • 83 percent said that funding for these public lands should not be cut given the return on investment it provides to local communities.
  • 69 percent said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports enhancing protections for some public lands like national forests.
  • 58 percent were more likely to vote for a candidate who would increase funding for land-managing agencies.
  • 89 percent reacted negatively to the closure of public lands resulting from the shutdown, choosing terms like “annoyed,” “angry,” “concerned” or “upset.”

Conversely, 72 and 67 percent said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands to reduce the budget deficit, or reducing funding for land management agencies, respectively.

These numbers demonstrate that communities in the American West care passionately about wild places—95 percent of those polled said they have visited public lands in the last year—but they are no anomaly.

The 2013 edition of the survey, which focused on perceived economic impact of public lands, found that a strong majority considered them to be an essential part of their states’ respective economies and rejected proposals to sell off public lands. A poll released by the Center for American Progress similarly found that voters in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming mostly considered permanently protecting public lands for future generations “very important.” In a nationwide 2012 survey from the Nature Conservancy, 77 percent agreed that “One of the things our government does best is to protect and preserve our national history and natural beauty through national parks, forests, and other public lands.”

It has been nearly five years since Congress last protected American land as Wilderness, but the importance of public lands to the electorate is undiminished. Public leaders would do well to remember this.

Ask President Obama to protect our cultural and natural landmarks.