Poll: Western voters oppose state land grab efforts

Results also show support for national monument designation

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A new poll shows widespread support for continued protection of public lands like Colorado National Monument. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

After a year during which Congress and several western state governments dabbled with the idea of stealing land from citizens of the U.S. and turning it over to states, a new poll shows there is little support for this concept.

The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll released today shows strong public support for efforts to protect and maintain national public lands. The poll results were released during an uptick in extremist rhetoric and against the backdrop of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

For the first time, the poll asked voters directly about efforts to turn public lands owned by all Americans over to state or private control. For now, there’s still a solid majority — 58 percent — oppose such efforts, with 60 percent of respondents opposed selling significant holdings of public lands like national forests to reduce the budget deficit.

The poll surveyed the views of voters in seven Mountain West states on key public lands issues affecting the region, including proposals to designate new national monuments in the West, establish new environmental and safety standards for oil and gas drilling, and prioritize renewable energy production on public lands.

“Charges of government overreach from the ideological fringes are making headlines, but in reality most Westerners in this poll favor greater protection and sensible use of the open lands and national treasures that define the region,” said Eric Perramond, professor in the Southwest Studies and Environmental Programs at Colorado College, and the faculty director of the State of the Rockies Project.

The poll also asked voters about the presidential designation of new national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Drilling down to specific regional proposals, the poll found that a tribal proposal to protect nearly two million acres of existing public lands surrounding the Bears Ears Buttes in Utah as a national monument received 66 percent support from respondents.

In Arizona, 73 percent of respondents approved of a proposal to protect 1.7 million acres of existing public lands around the Grand Canyon as a national monument.

According to the poll, monuments created at the end of the Clinton administration, which generated controversy at the time, enjoy wide margins of support today. Across the West, the poll showed overwhelming support — 80 percent in favor — for future presidents protecting public lands with a national monument designation.

“These results make clear Western communities care deeply about the public lands that embody the best of our nation’s culture, spirit and beauty,” said former U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. “Western voters see our outdoor heritage as integral to our economy and our way of life, and they certainly don’t want to see their public lands seized by ideologues or sold off by politicians in Washington.”

The poll also looked at energy issues at a time when price fluctuations and market changes make the future of oil, gas and coal industries unpredictable. Voters expressed a balanced view when it comes to how national public lands are used by private industries:

  • 52 percent of respondents approve of continuing drilling and mining at the current pace, but with increased safeguards for land and water—a view that significantly outweighs alternative approaches, including increasing drilling and mining (10 percent), maintaining the current pace without additional safeguards (10 percent), and stopping all drilling and mining (22 percent).
  • 76 percent of respondents want to continue tax incentives for solar and wind energy production.
  • 63 percent of respondents want to encourage the use of solar and wind energy, compared to 3 percent each for oil and coal.
  • 48 percent of respondents support gradually reducing the number of new coal mines allowed to operate on public lands, compared to just 31 percent who oppose.
  • 58 percent of respondents support increasing the royalty fees paid by companies that drill for oil and gas or mine for coal and minerals on national public lands.
  • 80 percent of respondents agree with a proposed Obama Administration rule to require oil and gas producers who operate on national public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air.

Additional key findings include:

  • Ahead of the 2016 elections, 75 percent of respondents say issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife are an important factor in deciding whether to support an elected public official, compared to other issues like health care and education.
  • 83 percent of respondents believe the drought is a serious issue and in Colorado River Basin states (CO, NV, NM & UT) strong majorities favor using the current water supply more wisely over diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas.
  • 75 percent of respondents support the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • 80 percent of respondents believe the U.S. Forest Service should be allowed to treat the largest and most expensive wildfires as natural disasters in order to have access to emergency disaster funding.
  • 72 percent of respondents say national public lands, such as national forests, national monuments, or wildlife refuges help their state economy.

This is the sixth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. The 2016 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll is a bipartisan poll conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. Nevada voters were included in the survey for the first time this year.

The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of seven Western states (AZ, CO, MT, NV, NM, UT & WY) for a total 2,800-person sample. The survey was conducted in December and has a margin of error of +/-2.74 percent nationwide and +/ -4.9 percent statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the Colorado College website.

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