Poll: Western mothers favor public lands, clean air during pandemic

Mothers want the best for their children and that means clean air, clean water and plenty of access to public land so their families can play, according to a new poll released Monday.

With Mother’s Day still fresh in the minds of many, Mountain Mamas released its poll of mothers in Montana and Colorado, showing that the outdoors has taken on even more importance while families are cooped up due to COVID-19.

Shauna Stephenson of Pony, a Mountain Mama’s board member, learned early this year that her 8-year-old has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That became more of a challenge in March when Montana’s schools closed because of COVID-19.

Suddenly, Stephenson found herself having to oversee her daughter’s schoolwork, which wasn’t going well because children with ADHD don’t do well with computer learning.

“It’s about fundamental health and well being. Mental health is so critical right now,” Stephenson said. “We figured out a really good balance between do some work and then go outside. It’s mandatory at our house right now. We have to get out and play in the creek or play in the forest or go for a hike. The difference it makes in her ability to do well in school, to feel safe and secure, is night and day.”

Almost 100% of more than 1,000 mothers polled agree that it’s important that their kids can get outside more, especially now that kids are putting in so much screen time with school.

For that reason, the same percentage – 95% – said it was important that the air contain less pollution or smog so children playing outside remain healthy. Having places with clean water carried the same importance.

And not surprising for people living in Montana or Colorado, more than 90% want to live in a place where their family can get to parks, trails and open space.

The poll’s margin of error was 3% and respondents were equally distributed among Republican, Democratic and independent groups.

These poll numbers coincide with the results of the public lands poll conducted a month ago by the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative. But COVID-19 factored more into this poll, which was conducted during the first weekend in May.

About 80% said they were concerned about the coronavirus itself. About two-thirds wonder whether they can keep their kids active and playing outside if they have to maintain social distancing.

A vast majority – 94% – said it’s important that kids learn to fish, hunt or hike with their parents and grandparents, and 77% are worried about being able to maintain access to public lands and other outdoor opportunities as the pandemic continues.

“So many of our parks and trails have gotten more crowded, here in Colorado, local entities have closed some parks and trails because they’ve gotten too crowded. People can’t maintain social distances,” said Jen Clanahan, Mountain Mamas Colorado state director.

Clanahan was previously the director of Colorado Moms Know Best, an organization of about 6,000 women that started in 2013 to advocate for conservation issues related to families.

But on Monday, Clanahan and Becky Edwards of Montana Mountain Mamas announced that the two organizations had merged to create Mountain Mamas and give Western mothers a stronger voice.

They may end up getting a few more members, because 56% of those polled agreed that they qualified as “mountain mamas” – women who support protecting public lands and the outdoor lifestyle as well as addressing climate change for future generations.

Edwards said the Montana group started in 2014 as more of a recreation group but slowly began doing more advocacy as women realized they should start taking care of the places they love. One of their first issues was supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money for fishing access sites, city parks and open space purchases.

They still have work to do because the poll showed 65% of mothers think the LCWF should be fully funded.

The Montana group finally became a full-fledged nonprofit about a year ago with about 1,000 members, although about 5,000 people followed the Montana Mountain Mama’s Facebook page, Edwards said.

“One of the reasons we’re excited to join forces with Colorado is we did an informal poll of our membership around Christmastime, and one of the issues that was rising to the top was climate. How do we have an impact on making sure that our air quality, our water quality, our winters are preserved here in Montana and all around the world?” Edwards said. “Colorado Moms Know Best has done such a good job of communicating with their membership and talking about influencing climate energy policy. So we’re excited to line up more of that in Montana as well.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.