Voters in eight states in the Mountain West weighed in on some of the most pressing issues involving public lands and waters, including proposals to eliminate or alter national monuments, in a new Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll released Thursday, Jan. 25.
The 2018 Conservation in the West Poll explores opinions on conservation, environment, energy, the role of government, trade-offs with economies, and citizen priorities.
The eighth annual bipartisan poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — for a total 3,200-person sample. Idaho was added to the survey for the first time this year.
With record-low snowpack in parts of the West, the drought remained a top concern this year, with 82 percent of respondents saying low levels of water in rivers was a serious issue; 80 percent saying inadequate water supplies was a serious problem; and 78 percent preferring to address the problem conservation, reduction, and recycling rather than increased water diversion from rivers in less populated places. Of the respondents in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, 75 percent view the Colorado River as “at risk.”
The poll found that Western voters are more likely to identify as a conservationist today than two years ago, with significant increases in every Western state.
Respondents showed strong support for cleaner forms of energy in the Mountain West. Respondents in six of the eight states surveyed cited solar as the source of energy that best represents the future of energy in their state. Wind was the top choice in Montana and Wyoming, and the second-ranked choice in four other states.
Underpinning the importance Western voters place on protecting public lands, 93 percent of Westerners surveyed view the outdoor recreation economy as important for the economic future of their state, and 81 percent view the presence of public lands and their state’s outdoor recreation lifestyle as an advantage in attracting good jobs and innovative companies.
Asked how the Trump administration should balance the protection of natural resources and development, 64 percent said they prefer protecting water, air, and wildlife while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on national public lands; 23 percent said they prefer the administration prioritize domestic energy production by increasing the amount of national public lands available for responsible drilling and mining.
Westerners hold national monuments in especially high regard. Eighty-two percent of respondents described them as helping nearby economies, 86 percent as national treasures, 90 percent as important places to be conserved for future generations, 90 percent as places to learn about America’s history and heritage, and 95 percent as places they want their children to see someday. Twenty-four percent said national monuments hurt the local economy and 27 percent said they tie up too much land that could be put to other uses.
Majorities in every state — and 66 percent overall — negatively view the current administration’s decision to remove existing protections and reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. A decision to alter or eliminate additional national monuments would be unpopular with 69 percent of respondents across the Mountain West.
“Over the eight-year history of the Conservation in the West Poll, a passion for the outdoors and strong support for American public lands have remained constant in the Mountain West,” says Walt Hecox, Colorado College professor emeritus of economics and founder of the State of the Rockies Project. “Nearly all the people surveyed said they visited national public lands in the past year and plan to go to a national park in 2018. Public lands drive our economy and define our way of life. A leadership agenda that does not recognize that reality is going to be met with strong disapproval in the West.”
The 2018 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll is a bipartisan survey conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. The survey was conducted in late December 2017 and early January 2018 and has a margin of error of ±2.65 percent nationwide and ±4.9 percent statewide. Individual state surveys as well as complete survey results are available on the State of the Rockies website.