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Friday, February 10, 2012

Western Voters and Public Lands

Just last month, researchers at the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project released the results of the 2012 Conservation in the West Poll. 2400 voters from six western states (AZ, CO, MT, NM, UT, and WY) were surveyed about their beliefs on the environment, conservation, and the economy.

Here are some of the results:

Conservation & the Economy

Voters in these states indicated that conservation and the economy go hand-in-hand. According to the Colorado College press release, swing voters in these western states “nearly unanimously agree that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are ‘an essential part’ of the economies of these states.”

Conservation & Jobs

The poll results showed a strong link between conservation and jobs: 78% of voters in these six states said we can protect land and water and have a strong economy at the same time, and a whopping 85% of voters agreed that public lands are important to their state’s economy. These results include voters from across the political spectrum, from liberal to independent to conservative – even those who identify with the “Tea Party."

Conservation & State Funding

Voters in these states agreed that even with very tight state budgets, funding should be secured to protect the state’s land, water, and wildlife (86%), as well as state parks (85%). Specifically in Colorado, voters support keeping state lottery funds for conservation (76%), rather than re-allocating those funds to education (15%).

Environmental Regulations

According to the executive summary report of this poll, “Western voters are more likely to view environmental laws as important safeguards (63%) rather than burdens on business” (29%). The political divide on this particular issue was a bit more prominent, with 78% of Democrats and 64% of Independents agreeing that regulations are important safeguards, but among Republicans there was a greater divide: only 38% of “Tea Party” Republicans vs. 62% of non-“Tea Party” Republicans viewed regulations as important safeguards.

What About Washington?

While Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming were the only states included in this poll, the results are still important for conservation in Washington. These results indicate a rejection of the idea that the environment must compete against the economy; that states must pick jobs over conservation, or vice versa. There was also strong support for public lands – an area of conservation directly related to the work done here at Washington Wild.

This bi-partisan poll shows that issues like conservation may, in fact, be a greater source of political connection rather than division for western states. Washington Wild has a great track record of working with bi-partisan support, most recently with Senator Parry Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA08) who have co-sponsored a bill to add an additional 22,000 acres to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, as well as 40 total miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers.

The results of this poll give the staff here at Washington Wild hope that conservation issues may help to continue to bridge political divides. Also, knowing that a majority of western voters believe that providing funding and resources for conservation is not detrimental to our economy can be very useful in our current and upcoming wilderness campaigns.

Darcey Whitney is Washington Wild’s communication and marketing consultant. She recently moved to Seattle from Hawai΄i, and loves watching her dogs try to catch squirrels.


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