What do a tea partyist, moderate and wallstreet occupier have in common?
A survey released earlier this week polling voters from six western states found that regardless of political affiliation, voters view public land and parks as essential to the economic vitality of their state and support upholding and strengthening environmental protections. The results stem from the 2012 Colorado College Conservation in the West survey, a bipartisan poll conducted in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico. Based on the results, it is clear that the broad conservation values uniting westerners are much more prevalent than the occasional issues dividing them.
Of the voters, 96% believe that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are "an essential part" of each state’s economy. Two thirds of voters identified themselves as conservationists and agreed that America's energy policies should prioritize expanding clean renewable energy, while reducing the use of coal, oil and gas. Sixty-three percent of voters believed that state laws governing industry's responsibility for clean water, air, natural areas and wildlife were "important safeguards" rather than "burdensome regulations". Voters disagreed with the ideology that reducing environmental regulations would create jobs and voiced support for continuing conservation funds to maintain parks, water, and wildlife protections regardless of tightening state budgets. Despite the difficult economic times, Westerners believe that public lands are essential to their economy showing just how deep their connection to the land is.
The survey offers a sharp contrast to the rhetoric vocalized in Washington and many state capitals, where politicians argue the trade-offs between environmental protection and job creation. The survey shows that in the West many people believe that a livable environment and well-managed public lands can be completely compatible with a strong economy. These sentiments echo the opinions of more than 100 economists and Nobel Laureates alike, who recently urged President Obama to create and invest in new federally protected lands.
The survey proves that real voters in the West uphold a strong conservation ethic. Despite political beliefs, Western "conservationists" cannot be boxed in to any one party; valuing public land and parks is a bipartisan affair, something that Washington and its politicians should take careful note of.
-- By Leana Schwartz