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The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, KUNR in Nevada, Nevada Public Radio, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana and Wyoming Public Media, with support from affiliate stations across the region.

Poll: Support for conservation remains high as concern about in-migration grows

Mike McBey
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Flickr Creative Commons

Concerns over inflation and overcrowding are rising in the Mountain West, according to a new poll from Colorado College. But policies that preserve land, water and recreational opportunities remain popular for most voters in the region.

For the past 13 years, the college’s State of the Rockies Project has released a bipartisan survey of thousands of voters in the Mountain West to gauge support for conservation. This year’s polling covered eight states – from Arizona to Montana – and was conducted by two research firms, one right-leaning and one left-leaning.

The poll found that 97 percent of respondents consider the rising cost of living in their state to be at least a “serious problem.” Eight-nine percent of voters said the same thing about the price of gasoline. However, Democratic pollster Dave Metz said that most people are still in favor of a transition to clean energy.

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“Gas prices may go up, but they still believe that we should be moving toward more use of clean and renewable energy as opposed to drilling for more fossil fuels,” Metz said.

Sixty-five percent of survey respondents said they want to reduce the need for fossil fuels across the country. Only those in Wyoming said they want to prioritize drilling and mining. Majorities in every state expressed support for allowing drilling on public lands only where there is a high probability of finding oil and gas.

 Courtesy of the State of the Rockies Project
Courtesy of the State of the Rockies Project

Together with past years' results, the poll also shows that voters have been consistent in voicing high levels of concern about wildlife population declines, climate change, wildfires, and the lack of access to outdoor areas among marginalized communities. But something that’s changed recently is a concern about the number of newcomers.

Forty five percent of voters said “too many people moving” into their state is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem – more than double the rate from 2016. But Republican pollster Lori Weigel said that trend hasn’t changed people’s opinions toward preserving natural resources. For instance, about 80 percent of Mountain West residents – including more than two-thirds of self-identified conservative Republicans – are in favor of the national goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

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“They are very specific in terms of their support for things like creating new public lands and tribal protected areas to protect historic sites or areas for outdoor recreation,” Weigel said.

Courtesy of the State of the Rockies Project

Water is another hot-button topic pollsters have been asking about as the Colorado River Basin faces record-breaking drought conditions. Half of respondents said they consider the current water shortages to be a “serious crisis,” while 39% said they see it as "a significant problem, but not a crisis."

As for potential solutions, a slight majority favored voluntary cutback programs for farmers, and 62 percent of those surveyed said they support banning grass lawns at new developments and homes. Investing in technology to reduce water waste and increasing recycled water use are much more popular policy changes.

The poll results also suggest that protecting wildlife migration routes, preventing light pollution and preserving drinking water and healthy forests also enjoy broad support. Find a full breakdown of the results here.

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This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Will Walkey