New Scorecard Ranks Western State Policies on Public Lands Access, Outdoor Recreation, and Responsible Energy Development

Oct 17, 2017

Colorado and Montana receive high marks; New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming in the middle of the pack; Idaho and Arizona receive low marks

OCTOBER 17, 2017

DENVER—The Center for Western Priorities released a new Western States Conservation Scorecard today, ranking 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.

Scott Braden, Public Lands and Wilderness Advocate with Conservation Colorado, added, “Colorado has made a long-term commitment to protecting the outdoors, funding recreation access, and encouraging responsible use of public lands. Colorado’s leadership isn’t just our hallmark, but it’s also directly benefiting the state’s economy, bringing new companies and jobs into Colorado, and establishing the Centennial State as a national leader.”

“The report card focuses on proactive, state-based conservation policies with a concentration on what Western states are doing well,” said Rokala. “It’s also important we acknowledge that lawmakers in some Western states, namely Utah, have spent countless hours attacking public lands and undermining outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s our hope that this report card can provide a roadmap for lawmakers across the West to focus on policies that move the needle forwards not backwards.”

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)

A PDF of the Western States Conservation Scorecard is available for download at To speak with an expert on public lands, contact Aaron Weiss at 720-279-0019 or