While there have been movements in some Western states to have the federal government turn over millions of acres to the states, a poll conducted for the Outdoor Industry Association shows widespread support in Colorado and Nevada for those lands to remain in federal hands.
Strong majorities in both states agreed that "(O)utdoor recreation and related tourism at national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges are an essential part" to their state's economies and quality of life, and that "outdoor traditions and recreation opportunities are so important that we must preserve them for future generations of Americans."
“The polling data confirms what we’ve always believed,” said Amy Roberts, executive director of OIA. “People in Colorado and Nevada, but really all across the West and around the country, regardless of political affiliation, know that outdoor recreation and access to national parks, national forests and national monuments are key to quality of life, job creation and healthy economies in their states. It’s no wonder that an overwhelming majority of voters are in favor of protecting these places and will support candidates who share these beliefs.”
The polling was conducted early in October; 500 registered voters who said they were likely to vote in next year's presidential election were surveyed in each state by Public Opinion Strategies.
Among other findings, the polling showed that 47 percent of the Colorado respondents and 37 percent of those in Nevada want to see their states encouraging development of solar and wind along with renewable energy. Ranking second was a desire to see more "clean" businesses centered around computers and technology, followed by outdoor recreation and related tourism businesses.
When asked whether they would prefer to see their state governments manage public lands now overseen by federal land-management agencies, 64 percent of Colorado voters and 58 percent of Nevada voters said they opposed such a move.
When issues involving federal lands were compared to such issues as the economy, health care, and education, majorities in both states said positions on federal lands were either somewhat or very important when it came to voting for elected officials.
“The survey results show the strong connection that voters in these critical swing states have with national public lands and outdoor recreation,” said Lori Weigel, partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “They recognize the economic contribution that public lands and outdoor recreation make in their state, and want their state to encourage this sector of the economy.”
Consumer spending on outdoor recreation contributes $13.2 billion to Colorado’s economy and $14.9 billion to Nevada’s, as well as billions more in salaries and wages in each state, according to OIA.
A year ago, a larger survey conducted by the Center for American Progress reached much the same conclusion. In that polling, strong numbers voiced positive views of agencies such as the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, although equally strong numbers held their state governments in higher esteem than the federal government. Overall, though, a slight majority opposed proposals to turn federal lands over to the states.
In Utah, state Rep. Ken Ivory in 2012 sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study, which was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2012. The bill established a deadline of last December 31 for the federal government to turn over Utah's nearly 20 million acres of public lands to the state, or it would sue. So far, no lawsuit has been filed. (It should be noted, though, that Utah's Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel advised the Legislature that the measure has "a high probability of being held unconstitutional.")