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Poll: Westerners Want to Keep Drilling Off Public Lands

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Confirming long-held environmentalist ideals about the importance of public lands, a new poll released Thursday, "Conservation in the West," found that individuals living in the western United States strongly value their public spaces and share a deep desire to safeguard these protected lands from sale or destructive energy development.

Despite the strong support for preservation of public lands, the conservation of Greater Canyonlands is currently up for debate in the Utah legislature. (Photo: christianeager via Flickr) "Westerners see the permanent protection of their public lands as an economic imperative, and essential to their quality of life," said (.pdf) Walt Hecox, economist and director of Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, which conducted the survey. "Decision-makers would do well to take notice and cure the often one-sided tendency to pursue development rather than protection that we’ve seen emerge over the last four years."

This year, voters were specifically asked to respond to recent proposals being considered in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah to turn public lands over to states or private companies and a majority, 67 percent, responded in opposition to the sale of public lands.
Though a limited number of individuals (only 34 percent) even knew with certainty that oil and gas drilling occurred in public lands, a majority think that they should be "permanently protected" from this type of activity.

Also, for the second year in a row, the study found "Westerners vastly prefer that renewable energy development be encouraged in their state, rather than nuclear or fossil fuels."

Researchers found that "personal connection and perceived benefits of public lands permeate attitudes in the West." Other notable findings include: 

  • 91% say “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of (my state’s) economy”
  • 74% agree that “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas help to attract high quality employers and good jobs to (my state)”
  • 59% believe “the impact of oil and gas drilling on our land, air and water” is a serious problem

The "Conservation in the West" poll was a bipartisan survey of 2,400 registered voters living in  six western states: Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.