Conservation nation? Well... 

City Sage

After the national repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Kansas opted to let each county decide whether to allow or prohibit the sale of alcohol. Community leaders, many notorious tipplers, lined up in favor of local prohibition, giving rise to the saying that they "voted dry and drank wet!"

What are we to make, I wonder, of the recently released survey of voter attitudes toward conservation in the Mountain West conducted by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project? In it, 2,400 voters in six states were polled by two nationally respected firms. You'll be pleased to know that "...western voters across the political spectrum — from Tea Party supporters to those who identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement and voters in-between — view parks and public lands as essential to their state's economy, and support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife ... Four in five western voters view having a strong economy and protecting land and water as compatible."

That's fine ... if only it were true! Judging from the answers to dozens of innocuous, feel-good questions, we're all tree-hugging, river-running, clean air-breathing, solar power lovin', not-so-rugged individualists. Or are we?

And if we are, how did we get Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, and the other coal-burning, dam-building, wolf-shooting, drill-until-you-drop Republicans?

Respondents were asked: "Which one of the following sources of energy would you want to encourage the use of here in (state)?"

In Colorado, solar led with 28 percent, followed by wind (23 percent), natural gas (18 percent), and energy efficiency (11 percent). Coal garnered 6 percent, while oil came in last at 3 percent. Even in Wyoming, where coal is king and oil is crown prince, voters opted for (drum roll) ... wind!

Admirable sentiments, but suppose the pollsters had asked this question: "Which of the following sources of energy are you willing to do without, beginning tomorrow?"

As the song goes, with revised lyrics, "Might as well face it / You're addicted to hydrocarbons."

We may all be conservationists, but linking policies to our beliefs, we're just like those long-dead Kansas tipplers. We're in bed with our cars, central heating, appliances and largely comfortable lives, and we're not about to make radical changes. We cover our tracks with meaningless clichés.

"I'll only support careful, responsible development of our oil and gas resources — we need the jobs here in El Paso County!"

"I'm all for protecting the environment — but we've got to get rid of heavy-handed, bureaucratic regulations!"

"There's as much as 1.6 trillion barrels of oil locked up in oil shale — so we'd be fools not to develop it (carefully and responsibly, of course)!"

Such straddles allow us to support both conservation and development, and to trust smiling politicians.

Caveats aside, the pollsters asked whether public lands in the Arkansas River canyon should be designated as a national monument: 66 percent of Colorado voters were in favor. The pollsters even explained the effect of such designation, telling respondents that "National Monuments have protections for natural areas and water similar to those in national parks. The public can recreate or view unique natural, cultural, and historic sites, and the lands are protected from development and resource extraction."

That leads, invariably, to another question. Why not Pikes Peak? Surely, America's Mountain is more deserving of such designation than Brown's Canyon, not to mention most existing national monuments.

No disrespect, but I'm not queuing up to visit the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in Alaska (which, according to Wikipedia, contains "large lagoons and rolling hills of limestone"), the Ocmulgee Mississippian mounds in Georgia or even Pompey's Pillar in Montana, featuring graffiti by William Clark of the eponymous expedition.

Pikes Peak isn't one — and you can thank local politics. Colorado Springs Utilities owns 15,000 watershed acres and doesn't want to deal with another layer of federal bureaucracy, nor do the highway managers, nor does the Cog Railway. You can't blame them, conservationists one and all.

And we'll always have the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument ...


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