The Trump administration’s energy and public lands priorities are unpopular in the West

Eight-state poll finds number of conservationists growing

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument | BLM

The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project unveiled its eighth annual Conservation in the West Poll last week. One year into the Trump administration, the poll finds that the administration’s rollbacks of conservation protections and attacks on national monuments are out of step with the values of Westerners. The findings make clear the priorities of Western voters and offer valuable guidance for policymakers and candidates running for elected office.

The bipartisan poll surveyed 400 voters in each of eight Western states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), for a total of 3,200 people. Results reveal that three quarters of Westerners describe themselves as conservationists — a number that’s grown steadily, up from 63 percent just two years ago.

As the administration continues to unravel bedrock protections to our national public lands and waters, the perspective of Westerners is more important than ever.

Westerners prioritize protection over production

Despite the Trump administration’s push to open public lands for drilling and mining, 64 percent of Westerners prefer the administration prioritize the protection of water, air, and wildlife on national public lands instead.

According to the poll, only 38 percent of Westerners approve of the way President Trump and his administration are handling issues related to our land, water, and wildlife, with 68 percent seeing rollbacks to such protections as a serious issue.

In the poll, many of the administration’s major policy priorities are met with opposition:

  • 75 percent want to require oil and gas producers who operate on public lands to prevent methane leaks and reduce the need to vent natural gas
  • 64 percent prefer keeping existing sage-grouse plans that protect habitat
  • 70 percent oppose allowing mining on public lands next to Grand Canyon National Park
  • Only 32 percent support (50 percent oppose) efforts to privatize campgrounds, visitor centers, and services at parks
  • Only 37 percent support (49 percent oppose) plans to raise national park entrance fees

Land protections and outdoor recreation are economic drivers

The poll found nearly unanimous agreement that outdoor recreation is very important to the economic future of the West. Eighty-one percent of respondents view the presence of public lands and their state’s outdoor recreation lifestyle as an advantage in attracting good jobs and innovative companies.

The significance of these numbers shined last week as the Conservation in the West poll was released on the first day of the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver. The show recently left its longtime home in Salt Lake City when outdoor companies refused to attend in protest of Utah’s anti-public lands policies.

Opposition to attacks on national monuments

In contrast to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s push to eviscerate national monuments, it’s clear that Western voters want to keep these national treasures intact. Echoing the more than 2.8 million comments submitted during the secretary’s national monuments review, the poll finds that a strong majority of Westerners view future attempts to eliminate protections for, or reduce the size of, national monuments in the West as a bad idea.

Sixty-six percent of Westerners also think the recent Trump administration decision to remove protections from and reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah is a bad idea.

These same trends held true for state-based questions about Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments in New Mexico. Westerners love their national monuments and 95% agree they’re places they’d like their children to see someday.

Worries about water

Supply and quality of water is of serious concern for Westerners. In the face of a water shortage, Westerners believe in smart water use and recycling, with 78 percent supporting using current water supply more wisely.

When asked specifically about the Colorado River, 93 percent of voters in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah, believe the Colorado River is a national treasure that should be protected, 87 percent believe the Colorado River is critical to Western states’ economies, and 75 percent believe the Colorado River is “at risk.”

The 2018 Conservation in the West Poll shows how misaligned the Trump administration’s actions are with Western public opinion. Since President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke started slashing away at energy and environmental protections for public lands, Westerners have been alarmed and vocal. Today, 76 percent of Westerners identify as conservationists, up 13 percent from two years ago. Will Western leaders and policymakers follow the lead and values of their constituents and stand up for public lands, too?