Despite the high-profile protests of the Bundy family against the federal government, new public opinion research by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project shows broad support for U.S. land managers as well as widespread opposition to attempts to turn over national public lands to state or private management. But what’s particularly compelling is that the data show that these sentiments are held by both rural and urban voters.
There’s a widely-held notion, heightened by recent media coverage of the militant occupation in Oregon, that tensions over public lands are based largely on a rural-urban divide. As the story goes, the West’s urbanites (who make up nearly two-thirds of Western voters) support the existence and federal management of national public lands, while the West’s rural populations (who live closest to the land) stand in opposition.
This opposition holds up across Western states. As seen in the chart below, 58 percent of Western voters say that they oppose efforts to turn management of public lands over to the states.
Finally, Westerners are not fed up with federal land management agencies, and instead believe that they are doing a good job. As seen in data from Colorado College’s 2014 poll, Western voters approve of the work that these agencies are doing.
The data tell a very different story about the American West than the one that is being spun by the Bundy family, their militant supporters, and the politicians who support them. As former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put it: “Bundy and his ilk are just squeaky wheels getting the grease.”
None of this is to discount very real problems that citizens of the rural West are facing. But what is clear from this public opinion research is that rural Westerners see collaboration as key to solving their problems, not confrontation nor a wholesale turnover of our lands to the states.