POLITICS
02/01/2017 08:04 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2017

Western Voters Just Want The GOP To Leave Their Land Alone, Poll Finds

Their representatives in Congress, however, don't seem to care.
A Navajo man on a horse poses for tourists in front of Merrick Butte in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah, on May 16,
MLADEN ANTONOV via Getty Images
A Navajo man on a horse poses for tourists in front of Merrick Butte in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah, on May 16, 2015.

A wide-ranging new poll released Tuesday by Colorado College finds voters in seven Mountain West states are largely opposed to policies that would significantly alter land management in the West, though legislators are moving forward with them anyway.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), for instance, has pushed one such plan calling for the “disposal” of millions of acres of federal public lands by selling them to the highest bidder (even if the sale doesn’t make money for the federal government).

Late Wednesday night, after the original publication of this article, Chaffetz announced he intends to withdraw the bill. Even with Chaffetz’s bill out of the picture, however, Republicans still argue strongly in favor of turning public federal lands over to state control, or selling them to private interests. It’s literally written into the party platform.

Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming stand firmly opposed to the idea of state governments taking over control of national public lands. Only in Utah did a plurality of respondents express support for the plan, with 48 percent in favor and 44 percent in opposition. But even that was within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

Western voters widely reject the plan to turn national public lands over to state control.
Colorado College
Western voters widely reject the plan to turn national public lands over to state control.

”Opponents to the transfer of public lands point to the substantial costs of fighting wildfires as one major impediment to state management,” Brandon Boepple, the associate director of Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, which commissioned the poll, explained in an email to HuffPost.

“In recent years, the US Forest Service has been forced to devote half of its appropriated budget to fighting wildfire (up from 16% in 1995),” he continued.
“The cost of firefighting would be a major burden on states, particularly given the trends we see with climate change.”

Boepple added that states struggling to keep up with the cost of maintaining public lands might decide to sell them to private interests instead, thereby threatening “many aspects of the region that Westerners hold dear ― including access to outdoor recreation and public lands.”

Chaffetz’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding his push for an agenda that’s opposed by most voters in the affected states.

The view from Comb Ridge is pictured in Utah&rsquo;s Bears Ears area on Dec.18, 2016. <a href="http://www.hcn.org/articles/co
Reuters Staff / Reuters
The view from Comb Ridge is pictured in Utah’s Bears Ears area on Dec.18, 2016. Utah sold off a 380-acre portion of Comb Ridge to a private buyer last year; the land had been public for decades prior.

Voters surveyed also soundly rejected another idea floated by Republicans that would remove national monument designations implemented in the last 10 years.

Eighty percent of respondents said they supported national monument designations, a sentiment pollsters noted was “consistently strong across partisan and ideological lines.”

That support also extends to the local level, notably in Nevada and Utah, where voters are in favor of the national monuments created in their states at the end of the Obama administration, despite howls of outrage from the elected officials who represent them. 

In Utah, for instance, 47 percent of respondents said they supported the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, compared to 32 percent opposed. Apparently unaware of his own constituents’ beliefs, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) dramatically dubbed the monument “an affront of epic proportions and an attack on an entire way of life.”

Indeed, Utah politicians are feverishly attempting to roll back the designation (and also to decrease the size of the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument), which recognizes Bears Ears not only for its value as a public land, but also as a sacred Native American site full of ancient artifacts.

Nevadans surveyed also support former President Barack Obama’s designation of the state’s new Gold Butte National Monument, with 63 percent in favor and just 13 percent opposed. 

Land on the northern end of the newly-created Gold Butte National Monument is seen on December 30, 2016 outside Mesquite, Nev
George Frey via Getty Images
Land on the northern end of the newly-created Gold Butte National Monument is seen on December 30, 2016 outside Mesquite, Nevada.

And, in yet another Republican policy proposal that runs counter to the views of Western voters, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is attempting to use the Congressional Review Act to repeal federal methane rules that require oil and gas producers to limit emissions of the gas during extraction.

A full 81 percent of those surveyed said they are in favor of the Bureau of Land Management rule.

Nevertheless, Bishop is pushing forward an agenda that would not only scrap that regulation, it would also repeal much broader federal methane rules that are slated to be gradually implemented until 2026.

Other interesting findings from the wide-ranging poll include:

  • 68 percent of those surveyed said they prefer protecting water, air and wildlife on national public lands along with providing recreational opportunities, while 22 percent of respondents hoped the administration would instead emphasize responsible drilling and mining for domestic energy purposes.
  • 82 percent want to improve access to public lands for hikers, anglers and hunters.
  • 63 percent of respondents are opposed to opening public lands to increased coal mining, with 33 percent in favor.
  • 80 percent are in favor of allowing more solar and wind production on public lands.
  • 34 percent supported allowing oil and gas companies to drill in new areas of public lands.
  • 94 percent supported improving and repairing infrastructure and other facilities in parks.
  • 67 percent of Westerners are in favor of streamlining the permitting process for recreational activities on public lands like hunting and rafting.

“The survey, conducted by a bipartisan team of polling firms, has shown that conservation and protection of our public lands are not partisan issues,” Boepple told HuffPost, reflecting on the broad consensus the survey found among Western voters.

“From responsible oil and gas development, to infrastructure funding for our national parks, and support for the outdoor economy, voters from across the political spectrum support these causes,” he said.

“Given our seven years of polling on these topics, we see steady support for protection of the West’s land, air and water, even during this time of change in national politics.”

This article has been updated to reflect that Chaffetz plans to withdraw his bill.

The poll was conducted in late December and early January by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm, and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, and is based on the opinions of 400 registered voters in each of the seven states for a total 2,800 person sample. It has a margin of error of +/-2.74 percent nationwide and +/-4.9 percent statewide. This is the seventh consecutive year the poll has been conducted.

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