MISSOULA – Montana voters are avid users of national parks and support balanced efforts to further protect public lands, which they increasingly view as a valuable economic asset, a new survey finds.
The second biannual Public Lands Survey of 500 registered Montana voters was commissioned by the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative to garner better understanding of public land discussions. This year’s survey was conducted in conjunction with the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.
“The big takeaway is that national parks and conservation are about as popular and bipartisan issues as you can find these days,” said Rick Graetz, director of the initiative.
The poll was conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.
Montanans view Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as “treasures” critical to the state’s economy and to future generations, and the “vast majority believe national parks are in need of additional funds to manage and preserve the parks,” the survey finds.
Compared to 2014, Montanans also are more likely to say public lands conservation provides positive impacts in Montana and the impact on the economy is far more likely to be recognized.
“Compared to our first survey, jobs and the economy are now seen on par with many of the other benefits of protecting public lands,” said Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies. “A 15 percent boost in voter opinion in two years is significant.”
Eighty-two percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Independents and 98 percent of Democrats say support for conservation and public lands are important factors in deciding who to vote for, showing support for public lands transcends partisan politics in Montana.
The survey also asked Montana voters to weigh in on a number of current policy debates affecting public lands in the state. These include:
- 74 percent support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, which strengthens protections for 85,000 acres of land in western Montana while opening new areas for motorized recreation and timber harvest.
- 70 percent of Montanans oppose drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park – land long considered sacred to the Blackfeet Indian Tribe.
- 61 percent of Montanans oppose proposed mines on the Yellowstone River near the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
The survey also found the majority of voters feel resource extraction like mining or drilling is not appropriate on public lands important to Native Americans or recreationalists, and lands located near national parks.
Graetz said his program doesn’t take positions, but he hopes the results enable more discussion as public lands debates around drilling and mining continue to unfold in the Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems.
“This survey paints a picture of how seriously Montanans take their outdoor heritage,” he said. “Conservation and how best to protect and manage our public lands will continue to be central to political discussions and voters’ decisions long past Election Day.”
A summary of the results and the full survey is online at http://crown-yellowstone.umt.edu/2016-voter-survey/. The 2016 Public Lands Survey was conducted by telephone on May 7 and May 9-11, with a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percent.