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02/15/2013

New Poll: Westerners Want to Protect Our Public Lands

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   Saguaro National Park (Photo: Matt Urban)

Anyone who has ever rafted down the magnificent Rio Grande in New Mexico, toured the petroglyphs of Nine Mile Canyon in Utah, or hiked the Grand Canyon would tell you that beautiful and stunning landscapes define the American West. 

The western states are home to some of the most treasured landmarks and outdoor areas in the country. So, it should be no surprise that those who live closest to them want to ensure they are protected. The latest evidence is a survey of voters in six western states: Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The numbers don’t lie: Westerners love their public lands, know they help the economy, and want to see them protected.

A whopping 73% of Westerners plan to visit a national park this year. And they know that there are others like them who want to spend their time and resources doing the same. That’s why a full 91% say that public lands like national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of their state’s economy - and why 74% say public lands bring high quality employers to their states.

Like anyone else, Western voters also don’t want to see their treasured lands trashed. As the ancient rock art at Nine Mile Canyon is threatened by dangerous mining and increased traffic from off-road vehicles, 62% of Utah voters say environmentally-sensitive places on public lands should be protected from drilling while 60% identify as conservationists.

The story is the same in New Mexico, where residents turned out in droves to support permanently protecting the Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument. 76% of voters there say pollution in lakes rivers and streams is a serious problem.

Voters throughout the West know that they want careful oversight, and they want to see these lands protected. More than four-in-five (81%) think that environmentally sensitive places should be permanently protected.

The message from voters in the west to their elected officials is clear: don't mess with our public lands. By an almost 10-to-1 margin, voters said they were more likely to support politicians who spoke out in favor of protecting these areas. Preserving the wild West not only provides a tremendous economic and recreational benefit to communities, it is unquestionably a political winner, as well.

--Devin Castles, Sierra Club Media Team

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