"Part of our identity as Coloradans." That's how Gov. Jared Polis describes our state's great outdoors, citing 2016 election results as a "clear mandate from Colorado voters to protect our public lands."
That sentiment could be extended to the residents of all eight states included in the 9th annual "Conservation in the West" poll conducted by Colorado College. The governor's comments came as part of the rollout of the latest survey earlier this week. Some of the results were outlined in Dennis Webb's piece sprawled across the top of Friday's Daily Sentinel front page.
I've written about the annual survey, sometimes called the "State of the Rockies" poll, upon its release in each of the previous eight years and often cited it in other pieces about outdoor issues. Credibility stems from the fact the questioning is done on a bipartisan basis. The two survey firms involved each do their primary work for opposing political parties but jointly conduct the Conservation in the West poll to alleviate any concerns about ideological bias.
Their annual questioning of statistically representative residents of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming is the only polling on western outdoor issues done on a consistent basis. Those ongoing efforts provide a look into trends over nearly a decade, not just a snapshot of a single place in time.
Predictably, there are skeptics, a couple of them commenting as part of Friday's Sentinel story.
The president of the Western Energy Alliance, Kathleen Sgamma, complained about lack of context in the questions. Providing "context," in survey circles, sometimes goes by another name — "push polling", a tactic designed to steer answers in a particular way. It's why all but the most partisan among us take polling announced by individual campaigns with a grain of salt. And it's something longtime professional pollsters like New Bridge Strategies, which works with Republicans, and collaborator Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, which works with Democrats, avoid in order to provide meaningful professional assessments to their political clients.
Pushback also came from the Department of the Interior in response to strong disapproval of Trump administration actions regarding reducing national monument protections, limiting public comment times on proposals to change public land protections, reducing Clean Water Act protections and allowing increased oil and gas production on identified critical habitat for threatened sage grouse.
The current administration, Interior spokesman Eli Nachmany said, is "striking a balance" and "collaborating with state, local communities and private partners" while promoting "American energy dominance." Poll respondents, 60 percent in every state but Wyoming, wanted primary emphasis placed on public lands protection over energy development. Even in Wyoming that sentiment prevailed, but by a lesser margin.
Trends over time, as evidenced by nearly a decade of comprehensive polling, are ignored by advocates on all sides at their peril.
Proponents of failed Proposition 112, which would have dramatically expanded drilling setbacks, should ask themselves why their efforts failed while Coloradans overwhelming support protection and conservation efforts. Those in the extraction industry might consider, with all the money spent to fight off those restrictions, why they're still faced with a dramatically changed political environment in Colorado's Legislature and a governor more attuned than his predecessor to the sentiments of those polled.
Some outdoor recreation proponents might also consider their absence from the funding table for agencies charged with managing usage, conservation and protection of public lands so necessary to their personal and business pursuits. Hunters, anglers, OHV users, ranchers and extraction industries all contribute via licenses, permits and fees. Recreational industries and many users who value but also impact public lands cite their support via property, income and sales taxes and tariffs on goods and materials.
That's valid. But all of us make those sorts of contributions. Those who hunt, fish, ride, graze, mine, drill, boat and raft also buy licenses, fork over user fees and pay specific taxes on guns, ammunition and other gear that go directly to support conservation and management efforts.
Surely there's some way bikers, hikers, climbers and others whose recreational uses increasingly impact our public lands can make those same sort of direct contributions to manage and protect the outdoors that, as our governor said, define us as Coloradans.
"The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives."
— Native American Proverb
Six generations of the extended Spehar family have valued Colorado's outdoors. Comments to email@example.com.