The State of The Rockies and Public Lands

from Wildlife Promise

Once again, Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project has put its finger on the pulse of the West. Their recently released Conservation in the West Poll shows that voters want leaders who seek to protect public lands and the natural world, while at the same time developing our energy resources.  The poll found what those of us who live in the West already knew—a candidate’s position on conservation issues makes a difference in whether or not we support them.

Fly fishing in the Crystal River. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.

Fly fishing in the Crystal River. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.

This is not surprising considering the same poll found 95% of us have visited public lands in the last year and 20% saying they had visited public lands 20 times or more.  By “visited” we mean hiked, biked, camped, hunted, fished and watched wildlife.  In fact, two-in-five responders identified themselves as sportsmen or women who had even higher visitation rates.

So while it’s clear that Westerners love to recreate on our public lands, we also like to think of ourselves as pragmatic.  We know our public lands are not just for recreation; we understand the need to develop our abundant energy resources as well.  In fact, the report found that 72% were more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to promote more use of renewable energy like wind and solar power.  Regarding oil and gas development, 52% said some public lands should be drilled, while environmentally sensitive places should be permanently protected and 26% said drilling on public lands should be strictly limited.  More than three-in-five voters support Master Leasing Plans for areas with oil and gas potential, a critical component of the Department of the Interior’s oil and gas reforms.

Keeping Public Lands In Public Hands

Bryce Canyon. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.

Bryce Canyon. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.

Candidates running for public office should also take note that report found 74% of voters oppose the sale of public lands.  It is surprising, therefore, that on January 24 the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution that “calls on all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the imminent transfer of public land to all willing western states for the benefit of these western states and for the nation as a whole.”

Twenty years ago when I was the Bureau of Land Management State Director in Nevada, the sagebrush rebels were calling for the same thing. They were as out of touch with the American public back then as some politicians and candidates are today. This disconnect, between what the people want and what their elected officials espouse, is indeed a Western paradox.

Last year National Wildlife Federation released a report, “Valuing our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life” which documents how public lands are critical to the health of our economy and our communities.  The evidence of the value of public lands and the value we place on them is well documented.  Now we just need our elected leaders to listen.

Take Action

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