Thursday, January 25, 2018

State of the Rockies project shows growing concern for the environment

Posted By on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 2:52 PM

  • Slides courtesy Colorado College State of the Rockies Project
Colorado voters are more likely to identify as a conservationist today than two years ago, with similarly significant increases in every Western state, according to the State of the Rockies Project from Colorado College.

"You wouldn't expect that to change much year to year," project specialist with the State of the Rockies Project Jonah Seifer tells the Independent. "Over the past two years we've seen a 13 percent rise in voters who identify as conservationists.

"We've always asked, 'Do you visit national public lands?' Earlier, we got a resounding 'yes.' In the past year, we noticed a strong uptick in people who visit public lands repeatedly, people who have made a commitment to public lands and visit them often and develop a relationship with them. A culture that repeatedly visits public lands is a trend for us."

Past year's reports have been cited by politicians and last year was referenced during debate on the U.S. House floor during debate over national monuments.
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The poll, conducted by Lori Weigel with Public Opinion Strategies, and Dave Metz with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associations, found:

• 65 percent of Coloradans identified as a conservationist in 2016, compared to 75 percent this year. Respondents in the seven other states also showed an increase. The biggest change came in Utah, which went from 57 percent in 2016 to 76 percent in 2018. Other states included Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.

• 74 percent consider themselves an outdoor recreation enthusiast.

The poll is in its eighth year and surveys citizens on their views of the most pressing issues involving public lands.

The poll comes at a time when President Trump and his administration are taking steps to block public access to some national public lands through reducing the size of public monuments and allow commercial use of public lands.

On Monday, the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities reported that a draft of Trump's infrastructure plan, first reported by Axios, includes a call for the “Disposition of Federal Real Property” by executive order, suggesting an intent to sell the country's public lands.

"This plan calls for the disposal of federal lands, it’s right there in black and white," the center's Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a statement. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said time and again that he would oppose any attempt to sell off America’s public lands. Once again, the secretary is telling the public one thing while doing another behind closed doors."

The Colorado College report also notes that "96 percent of Coloradans surveyed view the outdoor recreation economy as important for the economic future of their state." Eighty-seven said their state's outdoor lifestyle attracts good jobs and innovative companies.

"Overall, Colorado voter approval for President Donald Trump and his administration’s handling of issues related to land, water and wildlife sits at 36 percent, with 55 percent disapproving," the report said.

Here's more from a news release:
Asked where the Trump administration should place its emphasis between protection and development, 68 percent of respondents said they prefer protecting water, air and wildlife while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on national public lands. That is compared to 21 percent of respondents who said they prefer the administration prioritize domestic energy production by increasing the amount of national public lands available for responsible drilling and mining.

Coloradans hold national monuments in high regard. Eighty-six percent described them as helping nearby economies, 93 percent as national treasures, 94 percent as important places to be conserved for future generations, 91 percent as places to learn about America’s history and heritage, and 96 percent as places they want their children to see someday. Twenty-six percent said national monuments hurt the local economy and 26 percent said they tie up too much land that could be put to other uses.

Seventy percent of Colorado voters view the Trump administration’s recent decision to remove existing protections and reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 2 million acres as a bad idea. A Trump administration decision to alter or eliminate additional national monuments would be unpopular with 73 percent of respondents across the state.

“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,” said Dr. Walt Hecox, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Colorado College and founder of the State of the Rockies Project. “Nearly all of 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 Colorado.”

Specifically, several actions recently undertaken or currently under consideration by the Trump administration are unpopular with voters in Colorado:

• 40 percent of respondents support [44 percent oppose] raising fees to enter some of the country’s largest national parks during peak season;

• 30 percent of respondents support [53 percent oppose] privatizing the management of campgrounds, visitor centers and other services provided at national parks and other national public lands;

• 27 percent of respondents support [63 percent oppose] expanding how much public land is available to private companies which pay for the ability to drill for oil and gas on public lands;

• 24 percent of respondents support [60 percent oppose] expanding how much public land is available to private companies which pay for the ability to mine for uranium and other metals on public lands;

• 17 percent of respondents support [72 percent oppose] allowing mining on public lands next to Grand Canyon National Park, where new mining claims are currently banned;

• 26 percent of respondents support [67 percent oppose] changing current plans to protect habitat for threatened sage-grouse in Western states; and, conversely, 74 percent of respondents support [18 percent oppose] requiring oil and gas producers who operate on public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air—a regulation the Trump administration is seeking to overturn.

With the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show beginning this week in Denver, after the Outdoor Industry Association ended its 20-year partnership with Salt Lake City as a result of Utah politicians’ hostility toward land conservation and U.S. public lands, the impact of the Trump administration’s recent actions on local outdoor economies is top of mind for the outdoor recreation business community:

“Protecting public lands is a bipartisan issue with constituents across the West agreeing that public lands and waters should remain open and accessible for all to enjoy,” said Travis Campbell, chairman of the board for the Outdoor Industry Association and President of Smartwool. “Unfortunately, the current administration’s actions are not lining up with voters’ desires. We need people from both sides of the aisle to express their dissatisfaction with their legislators and let their voices be heard.”

The poll showed strong support for cleaner forms of energy in Colorado. Forty-two percent of respondents in Colorado pointed to solar as the source of energy that best represents the future of energy in their state. Wind was the second-ranked choice.

With record-low snowpack in parts of the West, the drought remained a top concern this year, as low levels of water in rivers and inadequate water supplies were identified as serious issues facing Colorado by 81 percent and 80 percent of respondents respectively. Eighty percent of respondents prefer addressing the water shortage by using the current water supply more wisely through conservation, reduction and recycling rather than by diverting more water from rivers in less populated places to communities where more people live. Seventy-nine percent of respondents in Colorado view the Colorado River as “at risk.”

This is the eighth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. Idaho was added to the survey for the first time this year. 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 poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT & WY) for a total 3,200-person sample. 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. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the State of the Rockies website.

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