Colorado College recently released its annual State of the Rockies Conservation in the West Poll. This year, the poll found that voters can be swayed by a candidate's views on conservation issues. The results of the poll are especially key for any candidate hoping to win the Latino vote in the upcoming midterm elections.
A whopping 84 percent of western Latino voters believe that funding for national parks, forests and other public lands should not be cut, while 64 percent are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports enhancing protections for some public lands. At a time of federal budget cuts, 60 percent of Hispanics are more likely to vote for a candidate who votes to increase funding for land-managing agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, according to the poll.
Among Hispanics, the poll found that respondents were more likely than other voters to agree that conservation issues, such as water supplies, park funding and air quality, are serious problems. We were also more likely than voters, overall, to support a candidate who will promote greater use of renewable energy -- 15 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites.
This survey isn't an anomaly. The 2012 Colorado College Western States Survey showed that the protection of parks, clean air and water are top issues for Hispanics, with 87 percent of Hispanics saying it's possible to protect water and land without hurting the economy. A huge majority -- 94 percent -- agreed that public lands such as forests, national parks, monuments and wildlife areas are "essential" parts of the Western states' economies. The 2013 poll showed that the majority of Latinos -- 64 percent -- describe themselves as conservationists.
Invariably, when the Hispanic Access Foundation takes Latinos on outdoor expeditions -- camping, fishing, rafting, hiking -- we see participants develop a passion for protecting the public lands that provide so much to them.
The launch of the Por la Creación Faith-Based Alliance, for instance, came on the heels of a fly-fishing trip to Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River last summer. These leaders embrace environmental protection as a moral obligation, and want to develop more environmental stewards of God's creation. Since then, these faith leaders have taking their message about the importance of protecting our public lands heritage to the White House and Congress.
In October, HAF took a group of 25 Latinos to the Gila River to experience it firsthand and learn about a diversion project that would threaten the river's ecosystem and status of New Mexico's last free-flowing river. The youth were so moved that not only did they testify before a state senate committee, but also just last week seven of them met with Gov. Susana Martinez's office. Some of those young people will be voting in this year's mid-term elections -- and the lessons learned on that trip will factor heavily into their decisions on who to vote for. The Colorado College poll shows us that they are more likely to vote for candidates who support a conservation agenda.
Hispanics' passion toward the conservation of our public lands makes us particularly outspoken against unnecessary roadblocks to carrying out this vital responsibility, such as the 2013 government shutdown, which temporarily closed many public lands. When asked how they felt 87 percent of Hispanics responded with a negative emotion like annoyed, angry, concerned or upset.
It isn't just political candidates that should take note of this poll -- those already in office should heed these warnings and take proactive steps to burnish their conservation credentials. Fight for funding for local and national parks. Support common-sense policies that balance conservation with energy development. Preserve as national monuments those public lands too special to drill. Conserve our critical water supplies.
This is our shared heritage, and Latinos are ready to vote to protect it.