Public lands: Western voters seek protection over production
By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
A majority of Montanans identify as a conservationist and want the Trump administration to protect sources of clean water, air and wildlife, a new round of polling has found.
Released Tuesday by the State of the Rockies Project at Colorado College, the bipartisan Conservation in the West Poll surveyed voters across seven Mountain West states on issues involving public lands as the Trump administration takes office.
Walt Hecox, a professor of economics at Colorado College and founder of the State of the Rockies Project, said the poll results suggest that Mountain West voters are generally opposed to any shift in land-use policies under Trump's presidency.
In each of the seven Western states, voters favored a greater emphasis on protection over production.
“As leadership changes hands in Washington, D.C., and Congress votes in new budget rules removing any monetary value from public lands, voters in the Mountain West are sending a clear statement – they don't want to see a dramatic change of course when it comes to national public lands,” said Hecox.
The poll, unveiled during a morning media call, addressed a number of topics and found that 76 percent of respondents support the U.S. Forest Service. Of those polled, 80 percent support keeping monument designations in place while just 13 percent want them removed.
The poll also quizzed voters on efforts to turn the nation's public lands over to state control. According to the findings, the proposal remains unpopular, with 56 percent of respondents opposing.
A strong majority of voters rejected the proposal in six of the seven states sampled, with Utah emerging as the lone exception. There, voters were narrowly divided. In Montana, 58 percent of respondents opposed the move.
Gov. Steve Bullock, who addressed the poll results during Tuesday's unveiling, said the state's public lands are good for business. He maintained his pledge to fight off efforts to sell or transfer public lands, calling them “our birthright and heritage.”
“I've said time and again that public lands are one of our great equalizers," Bullock said. “It doesn't matter the size of your checkbook. Transfers won't happen, especially on my watch. Those of us in the West will be watching carefully to ensure the new administration follows its promise to follow the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was confirmed by a Senate committee Tuesday to lead the Department of the Interior, has defined himself as an “unapologetic admirer” of Teddy Roosevelt. During his confirmation hearing, Zinke restated his opposition to selling off federal lands.
“Public lands drive our economy and define our way of life in Montana and in surrounding states,” Bullock added. “We have too much to lose if we allow these national treasures to be put at risk.”
When asked what the Trump administration should emphasize, nearly 70 percent of the poll's respondents said they want protections for water, air and wildlife, while also providing opportunities to recreate on national public lands.
The findings compared to 22 percent of respondents who said they want the Trump administration to place an emphasis on producing more domestic energy by opening more national public lands to drilling and mining.
In Montana, 92 percent of respondents want the Trump administration to improve and repair national park infrastructure, while 88 percent want improved access to public lands. Roughly 77 percent want more wind and solar on public lands, while just 24 percent want to make public lands available to more oil and gas drilling and mining.
The poll also found that 70 percent of respondents identify as a conservationist. Montana and Wyoming had the highest number, at 71 percent, while Utah and Arizona had the lowest, at 57 percent and 60 percent respectively.
“More than two-thirds of Western residents see themselves as conservationists,” said Dave Metz with the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin and Metz. “That's gone up 7 points over the last year.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at email@example.com