According to a new survey released today, 59 percent of western voters believe that state efforts to take over America’s public lands would be unfair to taxpayers, resulting in increased taxes, reduced access for recreation and a high risk of the lands being sold off to the highest bidder.
The research, conducted by a bipartisan team of nationally-recognized polling firms, confirms that the majority of westerners oppose proposals to transfer America’s national parks, forests and public lands to state ownership. As noted in the polling firms’ analysis of the results, “it comes down to the issue of fairness for voters” who do not believe that state taxpayers should have to shoulder the “entire burden” of management.
The results of the survey, the first in-depth analysis of westerners’ views of these proposals, come as no surprise to some policymakers.
Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) observed that “these lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way. Efforts to seize or sell off millions of acres of federal public lands throughout the West would bring a proliferation of closed gates and no trespassing signs in places that have been open and used for generations. These privatization schemes would devastate outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy.”
Advanced by a small group of right-wing politicians, state legislative proposals to take over public lands have gained some momentum this year, particularly after rancher Cliven Bundy’s April standoff in Nevada drew national attention to the fringe movement.
In addition to being fundamentally unconstitutional, these proposals would place extreme financial burdens on state taxpayers, including forcing state taxpayers to incur the full costs of fighting wildfires, which could force states to put iconic natural landscapes up for auction. The Center for American Progress has highlighted the growing contingent of elected officials and candidates arguing for these radical proposals in the “Bundy’s Buddies” series.
Conducted by a bipartisan team of public opinion research firms, the survey released Thursday reached 1,600 voters in eight western states: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
David Metz, President of FM3 Research, one of the firms that conducted the survey, said that “rather than supporting land transfer proposals, voters say their top priorities are to ensure public lands are protected for future generations and that the rangers and land managers have the resources they need to do their jobs.”
The analysis of Thursday’s survey results also shows that voters from both political parties, as well as independents, oppose state land transfer proposals, and concludes that “this view is widespread and broad-based, cutting across most demographic sub-groups.”
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), who will be joining sportsmen’s groups on Saturday to rally against proposals to turn national forests and other public lands in in Montana over to the state, explained that the views observed in the survey reflect westerners’ deep ties to America’s public lands.
“It’s no surprise that Montanans want to keep their public lands public,” Tester said. “These places not only create lasting memories for our families, they’re also huge economic drivers for our communities. We must keep these treasured places accessible for our kids and grandkids, and I will keep working to improve that access.”
Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.