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Report: Western voters agree public lands are essential to economic health

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on Wire Services

COLORADO SPRINGS—A new poll found that Western voters across the political spectrum—from Tea Party supporters to the Occupy Wall Street movement—value parks and public lands, and support
upholding and strengthening protections
for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife.
The 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in
the West poll surveyed voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The bipartisan survey found swing voters across the West unanimously agree that 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,
the survey reported. These voters will likely be key to deciding the
outcome of a number of U.S. Senate
and governors’ races, and possibly
the presidential race.
Two-thirds of those polled say America’s energy policy should prioritize expanding use of clean
renewable energy and reducing the
need for more coal, oil and gas. In Montana and Wyoming—states often associated with fossil fuels—
voters view renewable energy as a
local job creator.
Seven in 10 Western voters supported implementation of the
Clean Air Act, and updating clean
air standards. They see regulations
designed to protect land, air, water
and wildlife as having positive impact on public safety (70 percent), the natural beauty of their state (79
percent) and their quality of life (72 percent).

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—voters wanted to
strengthen protections.
The survey also found strong approval ratings for most governors in
the region, and an electorate divided
in hotly contested U.S. Senate races
in Montana and New Mexico.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer had a 65 percent approval rating.
When asked about the upcoming
U.S. Senate race between Republican challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg and Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon
Tester, 46 percent favored Rehberg, and 43 percent favored Tester.
While there are geographic and
partisan distinctions on issues such
as energy development on public
lands, the data showed the broad
conservation values uniting Westerners are more prevalent than the
divisive ones.
“Westerners are telling us that we’ve got to fi nd a way to protect clean air,
clean water, and parks in their states,”
said Lori Weigel, with the Republican
polling firm Public Opinion Strategies which helped coordinate the poll.
The 2012 Conservation in the West
poll surveyed 2,400 registered voters
in six Western states in early January 2012. It claims a margin of error
of + 2.0 percent nationwide and +4.9
statewide. This is the ninth annual
survey, which is meant to increase
public understanding of vital issues
affecting the Rockies through annual
report cards, free events, discussions
and other activities.

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