Voters in two Western states oppose ANWR drilling, poll finds

Polls commissioned by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in two Western states found strong opposition to energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just as members of Congress gear up to debate the issue.

Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in Colorado and Arizona, the results found that 58 percent and 61 percent of those state’s voters, respectively, opposed drilling in ANWR, with opposition crossing party lines.

“The diverse fish and wildlife populations found in the refuge, along with its remoteness, make it one of the most sought-after backcountry hunting and fishing destinations in the nation,” said John Gale, conservation director at BHA. “Sportsmen, along with most Americans, agree that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife-rich coastal plain should remain free from energy development.

The polls’ timing coincides with the advancement of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives that could rekindle efforts to open ANWR to energy development.

According to BHA, the House FY 2018 budget resolution enables the House Natural Resources Committee to allow energy companies to drill for oil within the refuge’s borders, overturning longstanding prohibitions against development.

“Opening the refuge to drilling would destroy the dream – of hunting public lands that are wild and undeveloped – that is central to so many of us who are hunters,” said Barry Whitehill, a BHA board member in Alaska.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1960 by President Eisenhower “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.”

BHA said it’s 19.5 million acres, including 8 million acres of wilderness, provide habitat to iconic game species including grizzly bears, Dall sheep and caribou.

Jim Hobart, who conducted the polls on behalf of Public Opinion Strategies, said the polls also found meaningful opposition to drilling among those who consider themselves independent politically.

In Arizona, 65 percent of independents and 69 percent of self-described moderates oppose drilling. In Colorado, 63 percent of moderates oppose it.

“This data represents a significant and intense opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and it is clear that the issue is a meaningful one for residents of Arizona and Colorado,” Hobart said.

In Colorado, the top testing message focused on ANWR as being both sacred to Native tribes and as a fragile ecosystem for wildlife. That message tested best overall, with 72 percent of Colorado voters calling it convincing.

The message that worked best among Colorado Republicans focused on the fact that 90 percent of federal lands are already being leased for drilling, including 1 million acres in Alaska opened in December.

Among Colorado Democrats, Hobart said, the best performing message stated that the land in ANWR deserves to be protected and preserved for future generations. More than 90 percent of Democrats found that message convincing.

“Colorado voters are clearly opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Hobart said. “Opposition comes not just from Democrats, but from key swing groups such as Independents, moderates, and seniors.”

In Arizona, the top message overall – and with both Republicans and Democrats – focused on preserving the land for future generations. More than 66 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats found the message convincing.

“Arizona voters are opposed to drilling in ANWR, and opposition is even stronger among key swing voter groups such as Independents and moderates,” Hobart said. “Even soft Republicans in the state are initially opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”