The majority of Wyomingites are concerned about the future of nature in this state, and about 68% think wildfires in the West are a bigger problem now than 10 years ago, according to the annual Conservation in the West Poll.
It’s a relatively unsurprising result from Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project completed each of the past 11 years given one of the largest wildfires in Wyoming’s recorded history raged last summer. Across the West, more than 90% of people agree that despite state budget problems, lawmakers should find money to protect land, water and wildlife. In Wyoming, that number is 89%.
“We are seeing strong voter concern for nature, which is translating into calls for bold action on public lands in the West,” said Katrina Miller-Stevens, Director of the State of the Rockies Project and an Assistant Professor at Colorado College in a news release. “If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear.”
The information, released Thursday, shows strengthening views of conservation, nature, wildlife and clean air and water. In 2011, 27% of those surveyed in the West considered climate change as either extremely or very serious, and in 2021, 54% shared that view. In the same period, the number of people worried about the loss of fish and wildlife habitat went from 38% to 55%.
Wyoming has long prided itself on wide open stretches of land including places like the Red Desert, which is one of the largest unfenced areas in the Lower 48, and multiple sprawling wilderness areas.
It’s also facing something of an existential crisis as state lawmakers consider the long-term impact of a suspension on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands. While many advocate for jobs in outdoor recreation and tourism to help make up for some of the shortfall, in a state like Wyoming with a massive budget crisis and no income or corporate tax, experts say adding new jobs outside of energy extraction does little to fill the state’s coffers.
But even amidst our budget issues, the outdoors still remains a critical issue to Wyoming’s residents, regardless of political affiliation, according to the poll.
The outdoors are so popular, in fact, that 88 percent of westerners said they visited national public lands in 2020. Of those polled, Montana had the most number of frequent visitors — those going to public lands more than 20 times — and Wyoming had the second most. Does this mean people could begin to love nature to death through recreation without taking the necessary steps to recreate responsibly and make sure opportunities remain for the next generation?
Miller-Stevens says no.
“The love of nature has grown over the past year,” she said. “It’s a love and appreciation, not an overuse.”
Two research firms — Republican company New Bridge Strategy and Democratic firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates – surveyed more than 3,840 registered voters in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming between Jan. 2 and 13.
Here are a few more takeaways from one of the most regular polls surveying thoughts on outdoor recreation, tourism and nature.
- 56% of Wyoming residents are worried about the future of nature and 47% want lawmakers to emphasize conservation and recreation on public lands “over maximizing the amount of land available for responsible energy development.”
- 65% said they support new national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and tribal protected areas.
- Just under half of respondents in Wyoming said they support “gradually transitioning to 100% clean, renewable energy over the next 10 to 15 years.”
- Only 36% of Wyomingites are worried about air pollution compared to 88% of those polled in Arizona and 91% polled in Utah.
- Almost half of Wyomingites are hunters and more than half are anglers. Across the West, 26% are hunters and 34% are anglers.
- More than 85% of voters in Wyoming are worried about jobs, and 92% are worried about budget deficits, more than in any other state.