Colorado College’s ‘State of the Rockies’ Project just released data from the 11th annual Conservation in the West Poll, indicating strong bipartisan support for conservation and a heightened concern for the future of our land, water, air, and wildlife.
The Conservation in the West Poll surveys registered voters via phone and online interviews across eight Rocky Mountain States: Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. The 2021 survey was completed by 3,842 voters in the Mountain West, including 442 Montanans from January 2-13.
Pessimistic about the future of nature
When asked whether the voter felt more hopeful or more worried about the future of the United States, an overwhelming majority of Montanans (72%) were worried, consistent with the results across the other seven surveyed states. Similarly, 58% of Montana voters felt worried about the future of nature, meaning our land, water, air, and wildlife. Younger voters between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most worried about the future of nature, whereas voters 65+ are the most hopeful.
Montanans’ views on the following environmental issues as an extremely serious or very serious problem:
50% → pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams
48% → loss of habitat for fish and wildlife
48% → population declines of fish and wildlife
43% → climate change
34% → the impact of oil and gas drilling on our land, air, and water
31% → low level of water in rivers
22% → inadequate water supplies
Ready for bold conservation action
Montanans voiced strong support for conservation throughout the poll. More than three-quarters (78%) on Montana respondents consider themselves to be a conservationist, tied with Wyoming as the highest positive response across the Mountain West.
Despite Montana’s red tide in November 2020, where voters elected an unprecedented number of public officials who campaigned on anti-public lands and anti-environmental regulation platforms, 90% of Montana voters agree that we should still allocate money to protect our state’s land, water, and wildlife even with the prospect of state budget shortfalls. The desire to continue investments in conservation had some of the strongest bipartisan support of any issue across the surveyed region.
Strong opposition for oil and gas drilling on public lands
In Montana, 70% of respondents think we should stop or strictly limit oil and gas development on public lands, so it’s safe to say Montanans are supportive of President Biden’s recent freeze on new oil and gas leases on federal lands to better protect our special landscapes. Even stronger support (79%) was shown by Montana voters to designate portions of existing public lands where wildlife migrate each year as areas which should not be open to oil and gas drilling.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Montana voters prefer that our Congressional representatives emphasize protecting sources of clean water, air quality, and wildlife while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on our national public lands over ensuring we produce more domestic energy by maximizing the amount of national public lands available for responsible oil and gas drilling and mining.
Clean water is a priority
The Trump Administration did its best to gut Clean Water Act protections over the past four years, leaving many historically protected waterways across the country, including ephemeral and intermittent streams in headwater states, unprotected and at-risk of degradation. Montanans find these rollbacks unacceptable, with 76% of respondents in support of restoring Clean Water Act protections for smaller streams and seasonal wetlands.
Upper Missouri Waterkeeper has been actively defending the scope of legal protections for headwater streams in Montana for the past five years as one of the original plaintiffs suing in federal court to protect science-based legal protections for waterways. We will continue to stand up for science and the rule of law in protecting our waterways, and we know Montanans also believe in science-based protections for our cherished waterways.
There’s no doubt that Montanans value clean water and healthy ecosystems. 93% of Montana voters support dedicated funding for modernizing old water infrastructure and restoring natural areas that help communities protect sources of drinking water and withstand impacts of drought.
So too, clean water, recreation, and the outdoors-based economy go hand in hand in Montana. 60% of respondents in Montana identified as a hunter, angler, or both – the highest percentage of respondents of the eight Mountain West states with the exception of Wyoming at 61%. Without clean water and healthy rivers, our fish and wildlife populations would suffer, and sportsmen and women in Montana recognize conservation of our natural resources as an urgent priority.
“If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear,” said Katrina Miller-Stevens, Director of the ‘State of the Rockies’ Project. Upper Missouri Waterkeeper hopes that Montana’s new administration will consider the results of this poll, acknowledging that protecting and investing in our public lands and waters is a top priority for our state’s citizens. Meanwhile, know that Waterkeeper will continue using strong science, the law, and community action to defend our waterways against projects that would do harm, and to fight for new protections that will provide critical defense in the future.