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Poll Shows Westerners Want Protections For Public Lands, Frown on Fossil Fuels, Nuclear


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.

Officials in Utah and New Mexico have called on the federal government to turn over most public lands to the states.

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.


"Westerners vastly prefer that renewable energy development be encouraged in their state, rather than nuclear power or fossil fuels."

Well, of course. If I could wave a magic wand, I wouldn't want garbage trucks trundling down my street at 5:50 a.m. every Thursday.

But I'd still be generating garbage.

I'll be impressed with Westerners' overwhelming preference for squeaky-clean energy when they stop relying on fossil fuels to keep them employed at their jobs, allow them to drive and fly, heat their homes, and manufacture the products they use. Until then, it's merely a hypocritical (but understandable, and very human) attitude. And, for that very reason, not particularly newsworthy.

Hypocritcal? Those are the things we're stuck with. None of it can be changed instantly. But until we can, is it hypocritical to push for clean and renewable energy sources? If no one pushes, nothing will happen.

If you are seeking hypocrites, look to our political "leaders." They are ones who hold the power make decisions that will lead us to the future. If they continue to accept contributions (bribes?) from the current industries, and continue in many cases to obstruct advancement of clean energy sources, isn't that where the real hypocrisy resides?

Lee, could you please identify how development of "clean" energy sources is being "obstructed"?

It's true that we're stuck with these things. But since we are stuck with them, why should people insist that their own nest not be fouled with them and someone else's should be instead? (Well, the answer is obvious; again, people are human.) For example, I bet the U.S. has higher environmental standards for oil extraction than Nigeria or Angola. So every NIMBY insistence that we fill up our motor vehicles (often giant and needlessly oversized vehicles, I might add) with oil from Africa rather than Idaho not only pollutes the planet more overall, but also runs the risk of immiserating the people who live there and have no say in what happens. Doesn't seem very nice to me. And yes, for this reason, I'd be willing to accept an oil refinery within five miles of my house, even though I wouldn't like it.

Imtnbke is right. This kind of "poll" is totally bogus. Sure everyone wants less pollution. Who could rationally "want" more? But unless the question is put in context i.e. how much will that less pollution cost or what will one have to give up to get it, the responses are meaningless. The only value of this kind of poll is for people to misuse the results, like the author of this article did juxtaposing a response to a question about selling off public lands to a statement about politicians wanting to return the lands to the states.

Not sure I follow you ec on misusing the results by "juxtaposing a response to a question about selling off public lands to a statement about politicians wanting to return the lands to the states."

According to the poll, a vast majority of the respondents see national parks and national forests as providing an economic boost to their counties and states, and value those lands for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation in general.

If you look at the movements in Utah and New Mexico, some politicians in those states believe they could make more more in part through royalties and severance taxes exacted on public lands and, in the case of New Mexico, selling those lands to private parties for development that would generate tax income.

Where's the misuse?

The misuse is the fact that the vast majority of the lands, if given to the states, would not be sold to private interests. Second the poll didn't ask about selling federal land. Further suppose the question was "Do you think some federal land could be sold without impacting hunting fishing and outdoor recreation in general?". The answer would likely be overwhelmingly yes.

According to the pollsters: Only 27% support selling some public lands.

It would certainly seem as if they asked that specific question for them to come up with that specific statement.

And to flip the coin, can you prove/document that states would not sell federal lands if they sudden came into their control?

So far the proposals in Utah and New Mexico have gotten the most attention, and in New Mexico one of the proponents was quoted as saying he'd like to see some of that land become private because private landowners pay taxes.

The Utah legislation, meanwhile, provides language as to how the profits would be shared with the federal government if the state later sold the lands.

And really, does it matter if the state turns around and sells the lands to developers/private interests, or holds onto it and leases it out to those interests? The end result can be the same in terms of lost recreational opportunities and lost revenues tied to the drawing power of national parks and forests. Just look at the clamoring over turning Pinnacles National Monument into Pinnacles National Park. It's all about the cachet of "national park.:

So, no, I don't think it was misuse, ec, I think it was just putting some context behind the question asked by the pollsters. And I appreciate the fact that you disagree. Context often is missing in polling questions, as imtnbke noted, and nuance is applied by pollsters in interpreting those results, and by those who object/support the results.

As for imtnbke's position that the poll isn't particularly newsworthy, how can voters not attempt to influence their politicians if they don't voice their views? Polling is one attempt at that.

Now, there's no doubt many would blanche at the cost of giving up fossil fuels, but if they don't state their desire to move away from them, how much effort would elected politicians put into trying to make that happen?

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