In Colorado College’s newly issued 2015 Conservation in the West poll, Western voters affirm that national public lands and their accompanying benefits—clean air and water, outdoor recreation, and easy access to outdoor spaces—are a bedrock of our Western lifestyle.
In the fifth installment of the annual bipartisan poll, public opinion researchers have taken the pulse of voter priorities across the West.
Here are four key takeaways from the poll.
A Uniquely Western Quality of Life
Public lands are an integral part of the Western way of life. Of those polled, 95 percent of voters report visiting national public lands at least once in the past year, while 58 percent of voters have visited six or more times.
When asked to list the reasons why they live in the West, voters ranked clean air and water, a healthy, outdoor lifestyle, and the ability to live near and enjoy public lands as the first, second and third reasons respectively. These factors outranked cost of living, taxes, and economic opportunities.
The West’s mountains, canyons, rivers and plains draw people to Western towns and cities, and provide Western states a competitive advantage over other regions. Our national public lands are a significant driver of local economies, fostering the $646 billion outdoor recreation industry and adding value to local real estate markets.
Westerners also want to make sure public lands keep receiving the protections these spaces deserve. Eighty percent of Western voters agree that presidents should continue protecting public lands as national monuments. This result highlights just how out of touch the politicians are in supporting the ‘No More National Parks’ bill, which would strip future presidents of their authority to create new national monuments.
Meanwhile, there are a number of land conservation measures currently languishing in Congress. These include bills to protect the Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho, Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, and the Grand Canyon Watershed in Arizona. If Congress fails to heed the word of Westerners and protect these deserving lands, then President Obama should.
National Public Lands Belong to All Americans
As the fringe movement of politicians working to transfer national public lands into state hands continues, the public has begun to aggressively speak out in opposition. Poll respondents were no different ‚Äì 68 percent of voters believe that national public lands belong to all Americans. Voters recognize that state management of national public lands would hinder access for hunters, hikers, anglers, and photographers alike. It would also place a significant financial burden on the states. To balance their budgets, states would likely have to sell off public land to the highest bidder or pass the financial burden on to the taxpayers.
Renew and Fund Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is set to expire in September 2015.
LWCF is America’s most important source of conservation funding, and has contributed over $1 billion to the conservation of public open space in the Rocky Mountain West, from local playgrounds to our most iconic national conservation lands, parks, forests, and monuments. The idea is simple—a small portion of offshore oil and gas royalties are set aside each year to fund and maintain our continued access to outdoor recreation.
When asked whether they supported the continued use of money from offshore oil and gas drilling for the conservation of natural areas, 75 percent of Western voters responded positively.
A bipartisan group of senators have introduced a new bill to permanently extend the LWCF—so stay tuned.
Desire for Better Access on Public Lands
Across the West, millions of acres of public land are landlocked, rendered inaccessible to the public by inadequate entry points or historic private land ownership patterns. In the Rocky Mountain West over 4 million acres of public land—an area larger than the state of Connecticut—are unreachable.
Western voters are calling for improved access, 96 percent say access on public lands for hunting, fishing, biking, and hiking is an important priority.