Western Voters Show Increased Concern for Conservation, Survey Finds

Voters from eight Mountain West states are increasingly worried about conservation issues such as climate change, wildfires and habitat loss — and their level of concern is even outpacing that for unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent poll out of Colorado College.

[READ: States Where Climate Change Is Making an Impact on Public Health]

The annual poll, part of the college’s State of the Rockies Project, found that 61% of those surveyed are “concerned about the future of nature,” including air, land, water and wildlife. The survey was conducted in tandem by a Republican pollster and Democratic pollster and reached voters in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The poll found overwhelming support for several conservation-focused proposals. More than 9 in 10 respondents said that states should still find money to protect nature despite budget problems. Of those surveyed, 66% support having all energy be produced by “clean, renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower over the next ten to fifteen years.” Support for this energy transition was even higher in Colorado (72%), Idaho (68%), Nevada (71%) and New Mexico (71%).

After a year in which wildfires devastated many Western states, the poll found that voters are more concerned now about the hazards than they were in years past. Uncontrollable wildfires are an “extremely or very serious” issue in their state, according to 60% of respondents, up from 47% in 2020. General concern about climate change is also growing: Respondents who said it is at least a very serious problem grew from 47% in 2020 to 51% in 2021. Of those surveyed in Nevada, 76% support making public lands a net-zero source of carbon pollution, the highest percentage among the eight states.

“We are seeing strong voter concern for nature, which is translating into calls for bold action on public lands in the West,” said Katrina Miller-Stevens, an assistant professor at Colorado College and director of the project, in a news release. “If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear.”

The findings come as the country is seeing a renewed focus on conservation and climate change under Joe Biden’s administration. Biden on Jan. 27 issued an executive order setting a goal of conserving at least 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. More than three-quarters of respondents in the Colorado College poll support this same goal.

[MORE: California Outpaces Other States on Electric Vehicle Efforts, Report Finds]

Time will tell on how much action is taken on conservation in the coming years, even with new Democratic leadership in both the White House and Senate. Several bills introduced under the last Congress will likely come up again this year, including one that would establish protections for 400,000 acres of federal land in Colorado and withdraw 200,000 acres from oil and gas use, according to the Nevada Current. Another bill, which did not receive a vote in the last Congress, would protect tributaries to the Blackfoot River in Montana, according to the Current. Among Montana voters surveyed in the Colorado College poll, 75% support creating new national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and tribal protected areas.

There have been some successes in recent years: The bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act of 2020 mandated that the $900 million per year set aside for the Land and Water Conservation Fund now “must be tapped solely for conservation and recreation” after it was estimated that billions were diverted from the fund to other programs previously, according to a Los Angeles Times commentary by the author Tim Palmer.

The Colorado College poll also explored the intersection between equity and conservation. More than 80% of respondents supported Native American tribes having greater input into the decision-making over areas within public lands “that contain sites sacred to or culturally important to their tribe.” And nearly three-quarters of those surveyed support directing funding to ensure that lower-income families and communities of color have adequate access to parks and natural areas.

The survey had a sample of 3,842 registered voters across the eight states, including an over-sample of Black and Native American people. It was conducted in January and had a margin of error of 2.2%.

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Western Voters Show Increased Concern for Conservation, Survey Finds originally appeared on usnews.com

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