Six Takeaways from the 2014 Conservation in the West Poll

Feb 27, 2014

By Center for Western Priorities

Colorado College’s 2014 Conservation in the West Poll is out and it sheds new light on a big year for conservation and land use in the Rocky Mountain West as we head into the midterm elections.


1) Wildlife Worries

Hunting and angling is not just a pastime in the West; it’s a way of life. Polling shows that overall, voters worry about the loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, with 67% considering it a serious problem. State-by-state data shows that Coloradans (73%) and New Mexicans (70%) are even more worried. Declining habitat and wildlife populations curb hunting and angling opportunities, and limit the booming sportsmen industry that spends upwards of $145 billion annually.


2) Conservation’s A Winning Issue

The last Congress was the first since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a national park, monument or wilderness. With 37 conservation bills lying in wait, Congress has plenty of opportunities to advance a conservation agenda. Democrats and Republicans alike are pushing for conservation measures, but Congressional inaction continues to plague the passage of these bills. Continued inaction could mean trouble come the November elections as a majority of Westerners (69%) said they are more likely to cast a vote in a candidate’s name if he or she supports conservation, as opposed to the 16% of Western voters who would support a candidate who votes to sell public lands to reduce the budget deficit.


3) Careful Where You Cut

Overall, 83% of Westerners don’t agree that funding for public lands should be cut, as it provides a big return on a small investment. Protecting some of America’s most prized lands ensures their conservation for generations, while also allowing neighboring communities and local businesses to flourish financially. Westerners know this to be true; they have a competitive advantage thanks to public lands, leading the West to outperform the country in job growth and personal income.


Additionally, supporting agencies that protect public lands, like the United States Forest Service, can help candidates win Western votes. 58% of Westerners polled said they are more likely to support a candidate who votes to increase funding for agencies like the USFS, while only 17% are more likely to support a candidate who votes to reduce funding. Westerners want to ensure that their public lands are being taken care of, and will favor a candidate that looks out for their best interest. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress has gone against the will of voters with painful funding cuts that make it increasingly difficult for public land agencies to ensure access, manage protected lands and maintain trails, campgrounds and other important infrastructure.


4) The Sage Grouse Conundrum

The greater sage-grouse is a five pound bird that’s a thousand pound gorilla when it comes to land use policy. Development on the bird’s habitat has led to major population declines. The federal government needs to decide next year whether or not to list the species as endangered, a decision that would radically affect Western land use. As Western states work with the federal government to protect the bird’s core habitat, voters across the West are in agreement that one part of the solution, investing in habitat conservation to protect the greater sage-grouse, is a good use of state funds. According to polling, 57% of Western voters support using state funds to protect sage grouse habitat. Only 33% are opposed.


5) Local Control, Local Support

As oil and gas companies move drilling rigs closer to residential neighborhoods, schools and homes, several Colorado towns have passed measures to regulate drilling and fracking on their terms. With the possibility of a statewide fracking measure looming, polling shows that 55% of Colorado voters would be willing to back a statewide measure giving local communities the right to regulate the location and extent of drilling and fracking within their communities. Only 22% would leave the state to regulate fracking in local communities.


6) A Drying West

Rocky Mountain States are no stranger to the trying effects of drought, but 2014 has drawn more concern than previous years. The Colorado River, a critical source of water for many Westerners, is drying up. Other Western states are bracing themselves for another taxing wildfire season, and some are looking to the federal government for help. The reality of lacking water resources has Westerners worried, with 50% saying low levels of water in rivers is a very serious problem, on par with their very serious concern about unemployment (54%). 82% of Western voters believe the low level of water in rivers is a serious or very serious problem.