Poll: voters in West strongly value public lands

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (Arizona).

Credit: Henrik Johansson, flickr.

A new survey finds that access to public lands and a healthy outdoor lifestyle are among the top reasons why people choose to live in western states.

In the bipartisan poll, versions of which are sponsored annually by the Colorado College State of the Rockies project, voters in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana said that nature is an important factor in their quality of life, and a key reason they choose to stay where they are.

Fittingly, many respondents indicated concern about threats to public lands, wildlife habitat and our outdoor heritage—and many felt that their representatives in Congress are lagging behind in their focus on protecting land, air and water.

The results cut across political lines, a reminder that Americans of every description love the outdoors. A majority of respondents identified as either Republicans (37%) or Independents (31%), and a majority said their views are mostly either conservative (36%) or moderate (38%).

Credit: The Wilderness Society.

Key results from the poll:

  • Voters in the six states overwhelmingly identified a healthy, outdoor lifestyle (88%); proximity to public lands (80%); and clean water, air and environment (85%) as factors in their decision to live and stay in the West.
  • Demonstrating this connection to the outdoors, 58% said they had visited national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other places managed by national land agencies at least six times over the past year. Roughly 95% visited these spots at least once.
  • Asked about priorities for parks and public lands, a large majority across the states identified protecting and conserving natural areas for future generations (96%); ensuring access for outdoor recreation (96%); and ensuring that park rangers have the resources they need to do their jobs (95%).
  • Asked about issues facing their respective states, a majority identified loss of habitat for wildlife and fish (69%); pollution of rivers, lakes and streams (79%); children not spending enough time outdoors (74%); and a lack of resources to care for national parks and other public lands (72%) as “serious” problems.
  • 66% said that tourism and outdoor recreation will be important to their states’ respective economies in the near future, a higher percentage than endorsed industries like mining and oil and gas development.
  • 75% said they support the use of some offshore oil and gas drilling fees to conserve natural areas and preserve access to outdoor recreation, the concept at the heart of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • 80% indicated support for presidents continuing to protect public lands as national monuments.
  • 65% identified themselves as “conservationists,” a slight increase over each of the previous two polls.

​A clear pro-conservation streak

These numbers are a positive sign for conservation, but they aren’t exactly shocking. The 2014 edition of the Colorado College poll found that voters were more likely to support a political candidate who supports enhancing protection for public lands and increased funding for land management agencies, and less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands to reduce the budget deficit, or reducing funding for land management agencies. The 2013 survey found that a strong majority considered public lands to be an essential part of their states’ respective economies.

Uncompahgre National Forest (Colorado). Credit: David Fulmer, flickr.

A December 2014 survey by Hart Research Associates took a broader look at American voters and similarly found that people care about public lands. A large majority of respondents (90%) supported permanent protection of some public lands, and 69% opposed proposals to stop the protection of new national parks and other public lands.

Disconnect in Washington DC

Notwithstanding these reminders that most Americans value our natural legacy, lawmakers in Washington DC have not been supportive of conservation in recent years.

Thanks to protracted partisan gridlock, Congress didn’t protect any wilderness between 2009 and 2014. Despite a few recent high-profile stands in favor of public lands, an undercurrent of antipathy remains: the new 114th Congress has shown a great propensity to undermine protections for our nation’s lands and waters. Recently, three measures were introduced to gut the Antiquities Act, which has been used on a bipartisan basis by presidents to protect natural and historic landmarks since 1906. One of those—Senate Amendment 132—was defeated along bipartisan lines, but 2015 promises to feature many similar attacks on conservation.

We will continue to stand up to these attacks, and ensure that lawmakers hear your voices about the value of wilderness and other public lands.