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Western States Conservation Scorecard

An Analysis of Lands and Energy Policy

The Center for Western Priorities’ Western States Conservation Scorecard ranks state policies on public lands access, outdoor recreation, and responsible energy development in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

The goal of the scorecard is to illuminate best practices and gaps in state-level public lands-related policy in the West in an effort to highlight where Western states are demonstrating leadership and where they can improve.

As “laboratories of democracy,” states are well-positioned to build the culture and economy that protects and enhances America’s public lands, with effective state policies and regulations often being replicated by other states and the federal government. For example, Colorado’s methane waste rules and Montana’s stream access law serve as models for other states and for the federal government’s approach to these issues. Montana opened an Office of Outdoor Recreation after seeing the success of similar state agencies in Utah and Colorado.

“At a time when Westerners are feeling less confident about the federal government’s commitment to respecting and protecting our outdoor way of life, we are increasingly looking to our state governments to fill the leadership void,” said Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director at the Center for Western Priorities. “Some states are taking the reigns of leadership and others have room for improvement, but all have a lot to offer and learn from one another.”

Colorado topped the scorecard, ranking as the first or second place state in all three categories and outpacing the other states in the overall score. Montana had the second-highest scorecard total and led all states in access to public lands. Nevada landed in the middle of the pack, just behind Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Idaho and Arizona received the lowest rankings among the eight Western states.

Scorecard Methodology

Each scorecard category—Lands and Access, Outdoor Recreation, and Responsible Energy Development—was graded under a rubric of measurable state-level policy standards to compare eight Western states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. These rubrics were based on research and interviews with state policy experts. Each state was awarded between 0 to 3 points for meeting benchmarks within each category. Points were then tallied for each state. States with the top score in each category ranked “best,” states with middle scores ranked “average,” and states with the lowest scores ranked “needs improvement.”

Lands and Access:

  • States were measured on four subcategories: access to state trust lands, stream access, funding for land, water and wildlife conservation, and public lands commemoration.
  • Rank: Montana (best); Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming (average); Arizona, Utah (needs improvement)

Outdoor Recreation:

  • States were measured on three subcategories: the existence of offices of outdoor recreation, funding for outdoor infrastructure, and their outdoor education programs.
  • Rank: Colorado (best); Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming (average); Idaho (needs improvement)

Responsible Energy Development:

  • States were measured across seven subcategories: setbacks of oil and gas wells, public disclosure of fracking chemicals, spill reporting and transparency, baseline water testing, oil and gas methane emission reduction, well and mine bonding, and whether taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the use of their public lands for private energy development.
  • Rank: Colorado (best); New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming (average); Arizona, Idaho, Montana (needs improvement)

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