A poll released today by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project reveals important insight into westerners’ attitudes towards conservation, energy development, and public lands.
A majority of those surveyed believe that protecting public lands is economically significant and are wary of the impacts of oil and gas drilling:
- 91% say “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of (my state’s) economy”
- 74% agree that “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas help to attract high quality employers and good jobs to (my state)”
- 59% believe “the impact of oil and gas drilling on our land, air and water” is a serious problem
The poll was conducted in six western states (Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) among registered voters.
This year, voters were also asked to respond to claims that there is “too much public land” and proposals to turn lands over to the states or private companies. While this proposition is dubious constitutionally, it hasn’t stopped legislatures in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah from introducing or considering such bills. But they may want to reconsider after these results:
- Only 30% of respondents believe that “too much public land” is a serious problem
- When asked whether they “support or oppose the sale of public lands,” 67% oppose while 27% support
- 79% believe that public lands support the economy while 15% believe they “take land off the tax rolls, cost government to maintain them, and prevent opportunities for logging and oil and gas production that could provide jobs”
The release of this information comes at a very important moment for conservation policy. Yesterday, President Obama announced he would nominate Sally Jewell, the CEO of outdoor giant REI, to be his new Secretary of the Interior following the departure of current Secretary Ken Salazar. As President Obama put it, Jewell:
…knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that, in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.
Additionally, earlier this week Secretary Bruce Babbitt called on the Obama administration to put energy development and conservation on equal ground by protecting one acre of public land for every one leased. He noted that the Obama administration leased more than 6 million acres of public lands over the last four years, while only permanently protecting 2.6 million acres.
There is some indication that the administration is already hearing this message. For example, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management yesterday threw out a number of controversial oil and gas leases that would have impacted organic farming and outdoor recreation near Paonia, Colorado.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.