RBC I Against an uptick in anti-public lands rhetoric from militant extremists, a new Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll released in February revealed strong public support among Colorado voters for efforts to protect and maintain national public lands.
The poll surveyed the views of voters in seven Mountain West states—including Colorado—on key public lands issues affecting the region, including proposals to designate new national monuments in the West, establish new environmental and safety standards for oil and gas drilling and prioritize renewable energy production on public lands.
Central to recent local controversies in Burns, Ore., and elsewhere, the poll—for the first time in its six-year history—asked voters about efforts to turn national public lands owned by all Americans over to state or private control.
The poll finds that 59 percent of respondents in Colorado oppose giving state governments control over national public lands; 59 percent of respondents also oppose selling significant holdings of public lands like national forests to reduce the budget deficit.
“Charges of government overreach from the ideological fringes are making headlines, but, in reality, most Westerners in this poll favor greater protection and sensible use of the open lands and national treasures that define the region,” said Eric Perramond, professor in the Southwest Studies and Environmental Programs at Colorado College, and the faculty director of the State of the Rockies Project.
The poll also broke new ground in examining public views on the creation of new national monuments—a topic that has often been portrayed as controversial and unpopular in the West. Yet in Colorado, the poll showed overwhelming support—84 percent in favor—for future presidents protecting public lands with a national monument designation.
“These results make clear Western communities care deeply about the public lands that embody the best of our nation’s culture, spirit and beauty,” said former U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. “Western voters see our outdoor heritage as integral to our economy and our way of life, and they certainly don’t want to see their public lands seized by ideologues or sold off by politicians in Washington.”
The poll also looked at energy issues at a time when price fluctuations and market changes make the future of oil, gas and coal industries unpredictable. Colorado voters expressed a balanced view when it comes to how national public lands are used by private industries:
Fifty-five percent of Coloradans approve of continuing drilling and mining at the current pace, but with increased safeguards for land and water – a view that significantly outweighs alternative approaches, including increasing drilling and mining (9 percent), maintaining the current pace without additional safeguards (11 percent), and stopping all drilling and mining (23 percent).
Seventy-seven percent of Coloradans want to continue tax incentives for solar- and wind-energy production.
Fifty-nine percent of Coloradans want to encourage the use of solar and wind energy, compared to 4 percent each for oil and coal.
Fifty-three percent of Coloradans support gradually reducing the number of new coal mines allowed to operate on public lands, compared to just 29 percent who oppose.
Sixty-two percent of Coloradans support increasing the royalty fees paid by companies that drill for oil and gas or mine for coal and minerals on national public lands.
Eighty-one percent of Coloradans agree with a proposed Obama Administration rule to require oil and gas producers who operate on national 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.
Additional key findings include:
Ahead of the 2016 elections, 77 percent of Coloradans say issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife are an important factor in deciding whether to support an elected public official, compared to other issues like health care and education.
Seventy-five percent of Coloradans believe the drought is a serious issue and 77 percent favor using the current water supply more wisely over diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas.
Seventy-eight percent of Coloradans support the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Eighty-three percent of Coloradans believe the U.S. Forest Service should be allowed to treat the largest and most expensive wildfires as natural disasters in order to have access to emergency disaster funding.
Seventy-seven percent of Coloradans say national public lands, such as national forests, national monuments or wildlife refuges help their state economy.
This is the sixth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues.
The 2016 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll is a bipartisan poll 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 seven Western states (Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) for a total 2,800-person sample.
The survey was conducted in December and has a margin of error of +/-2.74 percent nationwide and +/ -4.9 percent statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the Colorado College website.