Conservation in West Poll Finds Elevated Concern About Climate Change

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click to enlarge Those across the political spectrum place importance on a politician’s conservation priorities. Conservation in the West Poll
Now in its fourteenth year, the annual Conservation in the West Poll found that the people surveyed are more concerned about conservation issues than they have been since the project’s inception.“We didn’t have room to show the trend line on every single issue that has gone up because it was so many issues that are the highest in fourteen years of conducting this survey,” Lori Weigel of New Bridge Strategy, which helped conduct the poll, said during a February 14 announcement.Over 70 percent of the 3,400 voters surveyed in January 2024 were concerned about loss of wildlife habitat, pollution of water, microplastics , population decline of fish and wildlife, loss of natural areas, air pollution, climate change and the impact of oil and gas drilling.Along with Coloradans, the pollsters surveyed residents of New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada.The Conservation in the West Poll is part of the State of the Rockies project at Colorado College , which works to enhance public understanding of the Rocky Mountain West and advance solutions to socio-environmental challenges in the region. Colorado has been part of the survey since its inception in 2011.Of the Coloradans surveyed, 57 percent believe climate change is a very serious problem, and 65 percent said the same about inadequate water supply.Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates — the other polling group that worked on the survey — said more people are beginning to see the impacts of climate change in their daily lives, which might account for why they are more concerned and also more interested in finding solutions to problems caused by climate change.“Increasingly, Western voters are saying, ‘Yes, this is something that is not just a future problem,’” Metz said. “’It’s not just something I’m concerned about for generations to come. It’s something I see having an impact right here today.’”Sixty-seven percent of the Coloradans surveyed said they’d noticed significant effects from climate change over the past ten years. Across the region, two-thirds of the respondents said the same.When the poll asked the same question four years ago, the percentage was lower.Over the years,the Conservation in the West Poll has consistently found that Westerners love the outdoors and public lands. This year, 88 percent of the people surveyed had visited a national public land in the past twelve months, and 91 percent regularly engage in some form of outdoor recreation.Among the many worries revealed in this year’s poll, however, is that children aren’t spending enough time outdoors, with 87 percent of respondents saying they have that concern — the highest percentage in the poll’s history.Still, people aren’t paralyzed by their worries; the poll showed a Western public ready to act, too. Respondents were strongly in favor of policies requiring oil and gas companies to pay for the cleanup and restoration of lands where they’ve drilled, creating new national parks, constructing wildlife crossings and conserving 30 percent of America’s land and waters by 2030.“What’s striking here is both the breadth and the intensity of support that voters offer for taking action to conserve lands in the West,” Metz said.Most of the responses, even those to questions that have often caused division, cross party lines.“We repeated a question in this year’s survey which basically asked about the tension that lies behind a lot of these policy debates: When we’re thinking about how we manage national public lands in the West, should we be prioritizing conservation or should we be prioritizing the amount of energy we can develop domestically?” Metz explained. “This year, we saw the widest margin in favor of conservation that we have seen in this poll.”Seventy percent of voters said they would prioritize conservation over domestic energy production. And for the first time in poll history, a majority of Democrat, independent and Republican voters all agree on that proposition, with 89 percent of Democrats in favor, 72 percent of Independents approving and even 52 percent of Republicans in favor.Going into a presidential election year , the pollsters wanted to see what issues might have an impact at the ballot box. For 85 percent of Western voters, when it comes time to vote, a candidate’s position on clean water, clean air, wildlife and public lands will take priority over the economy, health care and education.“Most of the things that we poll on are so skewed by partisanship that you would think people are on different planets,” Weigel said. “This is not one of them. We’ve got three-quarters of Republicans, nearly nine in ten independent voters, and virtually all Democrats saying, ‘Yeah, this is something that has been a factor in my voting decisions.’”Weigel and Metz usually go to Washington, D.C., to share results and make sure that decision-makers are aware of the priorities of Western voters as revealed in the survey. This year, Metz wants to emphasize the respondents’ desire for solutions — and their confidence that the country will meet the challenge of climate change.Metz said that he and Weigel — both full-time pollsters — see more confidence in the possibility of environmental solutions than almost any other issue they ask about, including health care, national security and the economy.“In lots of those questions, we are seeing Americans losing confidence,” he said. “Americans are less likely today than at any point in the history of polling to say that they think the next generation will be better off than they are. But when we ask questions about some of these challenges that we’re facing around balancing our economic needs and our need for conservation — or even within competing environmental priorities like clean energy versus conservation — people think we can figure it out.”

webintern@dakdan.com

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