A poll of Western attitudes on the environment shows some disagreement with politicians over public lands stewardship and energy generation.
The poll of 2,400 voters in Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Montana shows they view public lands as "essential" to their states' economies and their overall quality of life. The poll was conducted January 5-10 for the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project.
“Westerners see the permanent protection of their public lands as an economic imperative, and essential to their quality of life,” said Walt Hecox, PhD., a Colorado College economist and State of the Rockies Project faculty director. “Decision-makers would do well to take notice and cure the often one-sided tendency to pursue development rather than protection that we’ve seen emerge over the last four years.”
The poll found that 91 percent of the respondents were in agreement that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas were essential to their state’s economy. Further, 71 percent oppose proposals to sell off public lands, and overwhelmingly reject arguments for the sale of public lands.
Highlights from the 2013 Conservation in the West poll:
• 79 percent believe public lands support their economy and enhance their overall quality of life.
• 74 percent believe national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas help attract high quality employers and good jobs to their state.
• 71 percent believe selling off public lands to corporations for development would hurt their economy and quality of life.
• 52 percent perceive public lands to be a job creator in their state.
The survey also illuminates Westerners’ view of energy production. For the second year in a row, Westerners vastly prefer that renewable energy development be encouraged in their state, rather than nuclear power or fossil fuels. In Utah, where the state supported an open pit coal mine close to Bryce Canyon National Park, just 16 percent of the respondents favored coal as an energy source, according to the poll.
When it comes to specific approaches to energy sources, those polled in the six states overall rated solar, wind, and natural gas sources ahead of "energy efficient imports," oil, nuclear, and coal. Arizonans favored solar the most, with 74 percent favoring that form of renewable energy, while 56 percent of those contacted in Colorado had wind energy at the top of their list.
When it comes to the politics of conservation, the polling found that "voters are inclined to take a positive view of a candidate who espouses pro-conservation positions. For example, when asked about a candidate who supports protecting public lands, a majority of voters say that position alone would give them a 'more favorable' impression of that candidate. Moreover, voters are even more positively impressed with a pro-conservation GOP candidate than with a Democratic candidate."
And yet, "Most Westerners acknowledge they are unaware of the record of their member of Congress on protecting land, air and water," the poll discovered.
They do, however, pay attention to their natural resources.
When it comes to water, already a precious resource in the Intermountain West, "87% say that the low water level in rivers is a serious problem, with a significant majority (60%) saying it is an 'extremely serious' or 'very serious' problem. Worries about low levels of water in rivers are especially pronounced in New Mexico (83% extremely/very serious), Colorado (69%), and Arizona (59%)."
"In fact, in what may be unprecedented concern about the state of rivers – voters in Colorado and Wyoming are more likely to say the state of rivers is a 'very serious' problem than say the same for economic concerns (by 11 and 23 points, respectively). That said, throughout the region two-thirds or more say that low water levels in rivers are a problem."
You can find all the reports that resulted from this polling at this site.