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Chukar Hunting

Two hunters and their dogs stand on a ridge line recently in the Big Horn Basin as they hunt for chukars.

Among their Western neighbors, Wyomingites remain the least concerned by climate change, but most are unabashedly conservationists, valuing an outdoors economy and protections for open spaces, according to an annual poll published by Colorado College.

Just 52 percent of Wyomingites consider climate change a serious problem, up 6 percentage points from 2016, according to the poll. More than 75 percent would call themselves conservationists.

This is the ninth consecutive year that Colorado College has put out the State of the Rockies Conservation in the West survey. It poses questions on conservation, energy and the outdoors to voters in eight states in the Mountain West, from Arizona to Idaho.

In a release published with the survey, the college noted many of the energy issues that have been priorities for the Trump administration — increased drilling, better access for oil and gas companies to develop on federal lands — are at odds with Westerners’ values.

The poll always reveals the high priority Westerners place on conservation, on both sides of the political aisle, said Corina McKendry, director of the State of the Rockies Project and a political science professor at Colorado College, in a statement.

“That a leadership agenda out of step with those values is met with disapproval in the West is no surprise, although the rejection of the current administration’s priorities is particularly intense here,” she said.

That disconnect is less obvious in Wyoming, where seemingly opposing values — the conservation mindset and the energy mindset — are often espoused by the same people.

For example, Wyomingites were fairly split on wanting their congressional delegates to emphasize environmental issues like clean water or energy production: 49 percent to 41 percent respectively.

Melinda Harm Benson, dean of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, said conservation isn’t really political in Wyoming.

“We all value wildlife. We all value open space,” she said. “If you live in Wyoming, and you love being here, that’s why you love being here.”

The Colorado poll picked out a number of the Trump administration’s decisions over the last two years for surveyors to rank as good or bad. Just 13 percent of those polled across the West thought removing national monuments protections in areas where oil and gas development can occur was a good idea. About 17 percent approved of cutting back comment periods.

That practice came under fire from some Wyoming groups in regard to oil and gas lease sales in sage grouse habitat. A court case on the matter last year forced the Bureau of Land Management to hold off on the sale of parcels within sage grouse habitats. That sale will go forward in February.

But in Wyoming, there was more support for the comment period reduction. Twenty-five percent of Wyoming voters polled thought it was a good decision and 48 percent though it was a bad one.

Three-fourths of Wyomingites call themselves conservationists, according to the poll. The vast majority of Wyomingites also said the outdoors were a “significant” reason that they live in the West and 91 percent believe that the outdoor recreation economy is “important for the future of their state and the Western U.S.” according to the poll.

Benson said UW’s Ruckelshaus Institute poll — released last year — has tried to find the nuance in Wyoming’s mindset on conservation issues, asking those surveyed to rank values in relation to one another. The institute brought in a conservative pollster and partnered with a variety of groups in hopes of fomenting a discussion that defied political differences.

Wyoming ranks the outdoors highly, even in relation to other values like energy, Benson said.

“We get trapped within these assumptions, she said.

But Wyomingites identify with the natural resources of the state and they value them, she said.

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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