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Survey of Western Attitudes Shows Strong Support for National Parks, Clean Environment


A recent survey of Western attitudes shows residents of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming see public lands as key to their state's economies.

A survey of Westerners shows overwhelming support for conservation of the landscape, with strong pluralities agreeing that "national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas, are an essential part" of their state economies.

In the states of Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana, some of which rank among the "reddest" states, politically, in the country, the survey showed a broad bipartisan support for a clean, healthy environment.

Despite the sluggish economy and various calls for more development on public lands, the survey of 2,400 registered voters in thsoe six states found growing support for protection of public lands and resources and a declining belief that protections of these places often are in conflict with strong economies.

The survey was conducted January 2-7, 2012, by two polling firms, one Republican and one Democratic -- Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates -- for Colorado College's State of the Rockies Project. The poll carried a margin of error of + 2.0 percent nationwide and +4.9 statewide.

Among its findings:

* While 65 percent of Westerners identify themselves as "conservationists," just 29 percent affiliated themselves with the Tea Party movement, and just 25 percent connected themselves to the Occupy Wall Street movement;

* Whereas 74 percent of those surveyed in 2009 said land protection and conservation can go hand-in-hand with a strong economy, by 2012 that percent had risen to 78 percent;

* Whereas 24 percent of those surveyed in 2009 voiced the opinion that conservation of public lands sometimes is in conflict with strong economies, by 2012 that percentage had dropped to 19 percent;

* Among those respondents in this year's survey who identified themselves as Republicans, 76 percent were of the opinion that natural resources can be protected without harming economic conditions, an opinion shared by 84 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Tea Partiers.

Time and again the findings pointed to strong support for the environment. Two-thirds of those surveyed said the country's "energy policy should prioritize expanding use of clean renewable energy and reducing our need for more coal, oil and gas. Even in states like Wyoming and Montana, which are more often associated with fossil fuels, voters view renewable energy as a local job creator."

Additionally, there was strong disagreement that regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and dozens of other environmental policies should be held in abeyance for the U.S. Border Patrol in its efforts to stem illegal border crossings. U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, has been a key proponent of that measure, though this poll shows he's out of step with his own constituents.

In Arizona, the state seen as having perhaps the strongest problem with illegal border crossings, 73 percent of the survey's respondents opposed suspending the environmental regulations in the battle against illegal immigration; in New Mexico, 65 percent of those surveyed were against that move; in Colorado the percentage was 68 percent, in Utah 72 percent, in Wyoming 69 percent, and in Montana 66 percent.

Dave Metz, a pollster for Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, said the survey's results pointed to a decided difference of opinion with many state leaders and those in Congress.

“Western voters consistently believe that conservation helps create and protect jobs for their states,” Mr. Metz said. “In fact, by a 17-point margin, voters are more likely to say that environmental regulations have a positive impact on jobs in their state rather than a negative one.”

In Utah, for example, while 69 percent of the state residents surveyed for the poll endorsed Environmental Protection Agency efforts to update Clean Air Act standards, Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year wrote the the Obama Administration to challenge EPA regulations to limit toxic pollution from power plants, the pollsters noted. And while "some members of Utah's congressional delegation are supporting legislation that would suspend environmental protections within 100 miles of U.S. borders to help stop illegal immigration; by a margin of 72 percent to 20 percent, voters in Utah (with similar results across the West) feel this proposal is unnecessary," they added.

"The poll results show that voters of all stripes, including conservatives, believe protecting clean air, clean water, and our natural heritage is consistent with traditional conservative values,” said Philip Carlson, Utah Coordinator for Republicans for Environmental Protection. “We call on our elected representatives to listen to their constituents and embrace the conservative ethic of good stewardship.”

In Arizona, the survey found strong support for a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park, with 70 percent of voters saying that the impact of mining on land and water is a serious problem in Arizona.

“Spending by Arizona hunters and anglers directly supports 21,000 jobs and generates $124-million in state and local taxes. This especially benefits rural communities like those surrounding the Grand Canyon. Why wouldn't we take steps to protect our parks, national forests, and wildlife habitat?” asked Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation and long-time resident of northern Arizona.

Arizona respondents to the survey also voiced lukewarm support for Gov. Jan Brewer, with just 47 percent saying they approve of the job she's doing. That was the lowest approval rating of any governor of the Western states polled.

“I’m not surprised with the poll results. In spite of what we hear from many Arizona elected officials, in my 35 years conducting and evaluating public opinion research in Arizona, it has always come across loud and clear that my fellow Arizonans (regardless of political affiliation) see themselves as conservationists and demand clean air, clean water and protections for the remarkable public lands that make our state so unique," said Richard Mayol of the Grand Canyon Trust.

And in Wyoming those contacted for the survey spoke about the importance of a clean, healthy environment to their economy.

“I think we’ve understood this here in Wyoming for a long time,” said Ken Cramer, owner of Cross Country Connections, an outdoor store in Laramie. “It doesn’t matter what your political party is. People live here because we care about the outdoors. People want to hunt, fish, have the outdoor experience – otherwise we’d leave.”

He added that the national forests, national parks, and public lands that lie within Wyoming's borders are key to the state’s economy.

“Tourism and outdoor recreation is the second-biggest industry in the state. We have three out of the top 10 destinations in the U.S. for snowmobiling," said Mr. Cramer. "Skiing, camping, rock climbing, hunting – it’s all huge here. We’ve got to have places to recreate and we’ve got to take care of them. Clean air, clean water and snow are vital to our activities and, of course, for our lives.”

At the National Parks Conservation Association, President Tom Kiernan said similar bipartisan support for national parks was evident last week at America's Summit on National Parks.

"One of the highlights (of the Summit) was seeing both Michelle Obama, Mrs. Obama, and Mrs. (Laura) Bush, seeing both (Interior) Secretary Ken Salazar and former Secretery Dirk Kempthorne, seeing both John Podesta and Mike Gerson ... time and again you saw at the Summit very different political views coming together around national parks and strongly endorsing the park idea and needing to advance it as we approach the (National Park Service) centennial," he said Monday. "The parks can and are playing a significant unifying role throughout the country, and that was visible at the Summit."

The pollsters also pointed out that the results "echo the sentiments of more than 100 economists, including three Nobel Laureates ... who recently sent a letter to President Obama urging him to create and invest in new federal protected lands such as national parks, wilderness and monuments. Studies have shown that together with investment in education and access to markets, protected public lands are significant contributors to economic growth."

“The depth and breadth of the connection between westerners and the land is truly remarkable -- when people are telling us that public lands are essential to their economy, and that they support continued investments in conservation, even in these difficult economic times,” said Lori Weigel, who for Public Opinion Strategies. “Westerners are telling us that we've got to find a way to protect clean air, clean water, and parks in their states.”

You can find the poll's results, (and other related survey details, such as support for elected officials, and more specific state results) at this site.


I'm glad you pointed out the glaring (I'm struggling to find an appropriate word here) of our Republican legislators and governmental leaders.  Some of them won't be satisfied until every acre of our land have been paved and contain either densly packed homes, a drill rig or some kind of mine and after the dollars they have generated are lining the pocket of some of their usually very wealthy friends and contributors.  And they're going nuts trying to figure out how to suck more of Lake Powell's waters into big pipes for transport to St. George, Salt Lake and other rapidly growing centers in the nation's second dryest state.

Ah well.  They are just following Utah's environmental motto:  Multiply, multiply and pillage the earth.

Yet there's still hope -- as this article points out -- that sensible people will somehow find a way to bring a halt to this madness.

Well Lee, I will always be open and expectant of a breakthrough for those with similar stridency on both sides of the issue.  Lifetime of government service verses private sector careers certainly develope different leanings with odd and extreme impressions of the other seldom completely correct.  

If we keep the Border Patrol out of the parks, the illegal crossers and smugglers won't have to worry about picking up after themselves. (I wonder how many people are smart enough to understand this comment.)

Jack: It's supposed to have been the brightest and smartest that's been having their way. How about giving the less bright and a bit more honest a chance.  At least they won't know as many ways to game the system.  

So Lee - tell us specfically what GOP legislators "won't be satisfied until every acre of our land have been paved and contain either densly packed homes, a drill rig or some kind of mine and after the dollars they have generated are lining the pocket of some of
their usually very wealthy friends and contributors." And, of course, we will expect you to back that accusation up.  I won't hold my breath.

EC -- How about U.S. Rep Rob Bishop.  Senator Mike Lee.  Rep. Jason Chafetz.  Utah legislator Mike Noel.   I probably can't back it all up because they are too clever (or sleazy) to come right out and say it, but their behavior and past performance testifies mightily to that objective.  Your anti-environmntal stance has been as well documented here on this website as have theirs in their actions in Congress and the Utah legislature. 

It will require the vigilance and determination of people who value our public lands to prevent these people from achieving their goals.  Consider this quote from Wallace Stegner that was in the NPS Digest just this morning:

American historian, author and environmentalist Wallace Stegner in Where The Bluebird Sings To The Lemonade Springs (1992):

One of the things Westerners should ponder, but generally do not, is their relation to and attitude toward the federal presence.  The bureaus administering all the empty space that gives Westerners much of their outdoor pleasure and many of their special privileges and a lot of their pride and self-image are frequently resented, resisted, or manipulated by those who benefit economically from them but would like to benefit more, and are generally taken for granted by the general public. The federal presence should be recognized as what it at least partly is: a reaction against our former profligacy and wastefulness, an effort at adaptation and stewardship in the interest of the environment and the future....the land-managing bureaus all have at least part of their purpose the preservation of the West in a relatively natural, healthy, and sustainable condition...Neither state ownership nor private ownership – which state ownership would soon become – could offer anywhere near the usually disinterested stewardship that these imperfect and embattled agencies do, while at the same time making western space available for millions.  They have been the strongest impediment to the careless ruin of what remains of the Public Domain, and they will be necessary as far ahead as I, at least, can see.


There may not be concrete proof of the goals of those who would destroy our lands, but  evidence of their designs on our open spaces are plentiful in public records available to anyone who cares to seek it .  Remember that actions speak much more loudly than words.  Perhaps you should seek a wider and more divergent view of what's happening than the narrow window you seem to be peeking through.

It might also help all who read your posts to understand where you are coming from if you would provide some background information on yourself.  Where do you live?  What kind of work do you do?  Who do you work for?  What possible financial interests do you have in the stances you espouse here?


It might also help all who read your posts to understand where you are coming from if you would provide some background information on yourself. Where do you live? What kind of work do you do? Who do you work for? What possible financial interests do you have in the stances you espouse here.


Just to be fair what agency has been paying your ticket during your career and retirement? Where do those funds originate? Setting aside the extremes that you like give to support your arguments, it's a bit of ingratitude (at least) to disparage the very source of your own income and that of all government agencies. Just saying...


You might wish to check out HR 1505, authored by Rob Bishop, (R-UT), and reported out of the House Natural Resources committee on October 6th of last year. It would suspend the following environmental laws within 100 miles of the Canadian-US border and the Mexican-US border, all in the name of "border security".

• National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.),
• Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.),
• Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.),
• National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.),
• Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703 et seq.),
• Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.),
• Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (16 U.S.C. 470aa et seq.),
• Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300f et seq.),
• Noise Control Act of 1972 (42 U.S.C. 4901 et seq.),
• Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq.),
• Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.),
• Public Law 86-523 (16 U.S.C. 469 et seq.),
• Act of June 8, 1906 (commonly known as the `Antiquities Act of 1906′) (16 U.S.C. 431 et seq.),
• Act of August 21, 1935 (16 U.S.C. 461 et seq.),
• Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.),
• Farmland Protection Policy Act (7 U.S.C. 4201 et seq.),
• Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (16 U.S.C. 1451 et seq.),
• Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.),
• Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.),
• National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 U.S.C. 668dd et seq.),
• Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 (16 U.S.C. 742a et seq.),
• Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (16 U.S.C. 661 et seq.),
• Subchapter II of chapter 5, and chapter 7, of title 5, United States Code (commonly known as the `Administrative Procedure Act’),
• Otay Mountain Wilderness Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-145, 113 Stat. 1711),
• Sections 102(29) and 103 of California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (16 U.S.C. 410aaa et seq.),
• National Park Service Organic Act (16 U.S.C. 1 et seq.),
• Public Law 91-383 (16 U.S.C. 1a-1 et seq.),
• Sections 401(7), 403, and 404 of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-625, 92 Stat. 3467),
• Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990 (16 U.S.C. 1132 note; Public Law 101-628),
• Section 10 of the Act of March 3, 1899 (33 U.S.C. 403),
• Act of June 8, 1940 (16 U.S.C. 668 et seq.), (25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq.),
• Public Law 95-341 (42 U.S.C. 1996),
• Public Law 103-141 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.),
• Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.),
• Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (16 U.S.C. 528 et seq.)

Moreover, U.S. Customs and Border Protection would have immediate access to lands managed by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture within 100 miles of our northern and southern borders for the purposes of “the construction and maintenance of roads, construction and maintenance of fences, use of vehicles to patrol, installation, maintenance and operation of surveillance equipment and sensors, use of aircraft, deployment of temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases.”

Since this is a park's forum, not a USFS site, here are the national parks that fall within the 100 mile zone: Acadia, Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, Cuyahoga Valley, Glacier, Glacier Bay, Guadalupe Mountains, Isle Royale, Joshua Tree, North Cascades, Olympic, Saguaro, Theodore Roosevelt, Voyageurs, Wrangells-St. Elias. That's a total acreage of 21,657,399, or about a quarter of the acreage of the National Park System. If one were to add the acreage affected in the forest system, the wildlife refuges and the BLM, there would be vast areas where things could be done without any public or environmental review. This doesn't make much sense to me and suggests that many of the committee members who voted to report out the bill had bigger things in mind than just "border security".


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