Poll finds support for public lands protections in the west

Colorado voters back clean water, wildlife habitat


Colorado residents continue to support efforts to keep public lands protected and accessible, according to the ninth annual Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll, which was released Jan. 31 and presented at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver.

The poll surveyed the views of voters in Colorado and seven other Mountain West states — Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — on policies impacting the use and protection of public lands. The role of public lands and the outdoor way of life continued to be of deep importance to Colorado voters, with 73 percent of Coloradans viewing themselves as “outdoor recreation enthusiasts” and 69 percent labeling themselves as “conservationists.”

For 73 percent of respondents in Colorado, the ability to live near, recreate on and enjoy public lands like national forests, parks and trails is a factor in why they live in the West.

An overwhelming majority — 90 percent — believe the outdoor economy is important to the future of Colorado.

“Our state’s mountains, rivers and prairies are the foundation of the Colorado way of life,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. “Protecting our public lands not only strengthens our local economies by promoting outdoor recreation and tourism, it ensures that future generations will continue to have a vibrant place to live, work, start a business, raise a family and retire. This poll once again shows that Coloradans are adamant about protecting our natural spaces, reversing the harmful effects of climate change, and moving to a future of clean, affordable renewable energy.”

Talking policies

When asked about the Trump administration’s agenda for public lands, the majority of Coloradans viewed actions taken over the past two years with strong disapproval. The highest disapproval came when asked about removing national monument protections from lands in the West that contain archaeological and Native American sites, but also have oil, gas and mineral deposits. In Colorado, 72 percent of those polled said this was a bad change. Additionally, 63 percent said removing Clean Water Act protections from smaller streams and seasonal wetlands was also a bad change.

Corina McKendry, director of the State of the Rockies Project and an associate professor of political science at Colorado College, said that over the history of the Conservation in the West Poll, they have consistently seen bipartisan support for protecting public lands and outdoor spaces.

“That a leadership agenda out of step with those values is met with disapproval in Colorado is no surprise,” she said.

According to the poll, just 24 percent of Coloradans want Congress to ensure the production of more domestic energy by maximizing the amount of national public lands available for responsible oil and gas drilling and mining. That is compared to 65 percent who prefer Congress ensures the protection of clean water, air quality and wildlife habitat while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on national public lands.

In addition, 80 percent of Colorado respondents said they support Congress restoring the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired last September.

Water, wildfires and wildlife

Impacts of uncontrollable wildfires and water issues topped the list of voter concerns this year. Those concerns are associated with the impacts of climate change, which 62 percent of those polled view as a very serious or extremely serious problem in the state. This number has been steadily increasing each year of the poll’s history.

When asked about wildfires, 69 percent of those surveyed in Colorado believe they are more of a problem than 10 years ago, with changes in climate and drought being the top reasons given for the shift. Voters also have significant concerns about water levels in the West — 73 percent view water supplies as becoming less predictable every year.

Protecting and restoring the health of rivers, lakes and streams got the most support from those polled along with managing forests to help prevent catastrophic wildfires. Both issues were given 83 percent support for funding. Conserving sensitive areas which the state has identified as critical wildlife habitats were also high with 75 percent supporting funding.

And 73 percent of Coloradans said they would support a small increase in local taxes or fees in order to protect water, conserve wildlife habitat and ensure opportunities for outdoor recreation.

“The poll underscores that people living in the West are overwhelmingly outdoor recreationists,” said Amy Roberts, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association, a trade organization for the outdoor industry. “Whether they enjoy the outdoors through hiking, biking, fishing or camping … our outdoor recreation lifestyle translates to healthy communities and healthy economies across the West. The poll also shows that most of us want our elected officials to support policies that protect and maintain access to our public lands and waters. We hope they now take an opportunity to build bipartisan support on these issues.”


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