In Colorado, conservation and jobs go hand in hand, say voters

Can a person be both pro-business and pro-environment? In Colorado and surrounding states, the answer is a resounding “yes” according to a poll released today by Colorado College.

A full 67 percent of Colorado voters identify themselves as conservationists, including 62 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents. A whopping 93 percent say parks and open space are essential to the state’s economy.

A bill signed into law Monday will make it easier for ski resorts to expand their menu of summer activities.

The results from the 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll find that Western voters across the political spectrum – from Tea Party supporters to those who identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement and voters in-between – support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife.

The survey, completed in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming by Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), found that swing voters across the West – who may be key to deciding the presidential race – nearly unanimously agree that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are “an essential part” of the economies of these states. Four in five Western voters view having a strong economy and protecting land and water as compatible.

Two-thirds of Western voters say America’s energy policy should prioritize expanding use of clean renewable energy and reducing the need for more coal, oil and gas. Even in states like Wyoming and Montana, which are more often associated with fossil fuels, voters view renewable energy as a local job creator according to the survey.

“Western voters consistently believe that conservation helps create and protect jobs for their states,” said Dave Metz in a press release. “In fact, by a 17 point margin, voters are more likely to say that environmental regulations have a positive impact on jobs in their state rather than a negative one.”

Seven in 10 Western voters support implementation of the Clean Air Act, and updating clean air standards. They see regulations designed to protect land, air, water and wildlife as having a positive impact on public safety (70 percent), the natural beauty of their state (79 percent) and their quality of life (72 percent).

“What we read in the press and what politicians say about an ever-sharpening trade-off between environment and jobs in a deep recession do not square with the views of many Western voters,” said Colorado College economist and State of the Rockies Project faculty director Walt Hecox, PhD. “Instead, those stubborn Westerners continue to defy stereotypes, by arguing that a livable environment and well-managed public lands can be — in fact must be — compatible with a strong economy.”

Western voters voiced support for continued funding of conservation, indicating that even with tight state budgets, they want to maintain investments in parks, water, and wildlife protection. When specific local issues were tested with voters in some states – such as increasing the state’s renewable energy standard in Montana, establishing national monument protections for the Arkansas River canyon in Colorado, and updating energy standards for new homes in Utah – voters said they want to strengthen protections.

“The depth and breadth of the connection between Westerners and the land is truly remarkable — when people are telling us that public lands are essential to their economy, and that they support continued investments in conservation, even in these difficult economic times,” said Lori Weigel. “Westerners are telling us that we’ve got to find a way to protect clean air, clean water, and parks in their states.”

The poll surveyed 2,400 registered voters in six Western states (AZ, CO, NM, UT, WY, MT) January 2 through 5 & 7, 2012, and yields a margin of error of +/- 2.0 percent nationwide and +/- 4.9 statewide.

“We know that visitors come to Durango because of all of the outdoor opportunities they can experience in our backyard. For our business, protecting land and the Colorado River is part of our business model,” said Kirk Komich, owner of the Leeland House and Rochester Hotel in Durango.

Two-thirds of Colorado voters want to reduce America’s need for coal, oil and gas by expanding use of clean, renewable energy — which they see as a local job creator; the same percentage of voters do not want corporate profit and development of public lands to limit public access. Three in four voters want to uphold industry regulations that protect Colorado’s land, air, and water, and see these regulations as having a positive impact on the natural beauty of their state, and their quality of life.

“Coloradans love this state because of the outdoor recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching,” said Suzanne O’Neill, director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “Protecting our land, clean air, and streams requires balancing energy development on public lands with safeguards for important wildlife habitat and open space for all of us to access and enjoy.”

The survey also tested voter attitudes on local issues and elected officials. Sixty-seven percent of Colorado voters voice support for the job being performed by Governor John Hickenlooper. More than 8 in 10 agree, that despite state budget problems, investments in Colorado’s parks, water and wildlife should be maintained.

Seventy-six percent want state Lottery funds to continue to be used to protect parks, wildlife habitat, and natural areas and school construction, instead of being redirected to the general state education budget. Sixty-six percent support protection of some of the lands in the Arkansas River Canyon as a national monument.

“Sportsmen put their money where their mouth is when it comes to funding conservation,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We were pleased to see that overwhelming majorities of Colorado voters recognize the importance of funding protection of our land, water and wildlife even in the face of state budget problems. In particular, Coloradans remain deeply committed to using lottery funds to support our state’s natural areas.”

In fact, 92 percent of sportsmen – the majority of whom identify as politically conservative or moderate — believe that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an “essential part” of the economies of these states. Nearly two-thirds of sportsmen polled also opposed allowing private companies to develop public lands when it would limit the public’s enjoyment of – or access to – these lands, and the same percentage believe in maintaining current conservation measures for land, air and water.

“Investments in conservation of our public lands and water are not only critical to providing quality hunting and fishing opportunities, but also a critical component of the $192 billion sportsmen contribute to our national economy annually,” said Gaspar Perricone, co-director of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Sportsmen and women continue to value a stubborn stewardship of our natural places and the recreational opportunities those places provide.”

More than two out of three sportsmen view loss of habitat for fish and wildlife as a serious threat to a quality outdoor experience. Further, 75 percent of sportsmen polled indicated that cuts in funding for parks, habitat and water quality pose a serious threat to their hunting heritage and Western lifestyle.

In Colorado, 66 percent of hunters identified themselves as conservationists, 75 percent of anglers identified that way. Asked whether environmental regulations have a positive or negative impact on jobs in the state, 44 percent said the effect was positive, compared with 29 percent who thought regulations were bad for the job market.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.