In an Era of Divisions, Public Lands Offer Unity

Yosemite park

Few issues in the West have been as divi­sive as pub­lic lands. Con­ser­va­tion, recre­ation, min­ing, log­ging, ranch­ing, fish­ing, camp­ing and wilder­ness are often at odds. The divides are usu­al­ly seen along urban-rur­al lines and left-right polit­i­cal lines. But, when nation­al pol­i­tics seem more divid­ed that ever, pub­lic lands offer some­thing rare indeed: some­thing most agree on.

A recent poll of the west’s inter­moun­tain states prove that love of pub­lic lands cross­es par­ty lines.

West­ern­ers Just Wan­na Have Fun
The poll revealed how deeply west­ern­ers val­ue access to pub­lic lands and out­door recre­ation. 82% want­ed greater access to pub­lic lands for fish­ing, hunt­ing, camp­ing, hik­ing and oth­er types of out­door recre­ation. The sup­port crossed par­ty lines and was equal­ly strong from peo­ple who lived in the sub­urbs, the cities, and small towns. By con­trast, only 22% want­ed more empha­sis on job cre­at­ing indus­tries on pub­lic lands.

Habi­tat Rocks
But west­ern­ers don’t just care about whether they can get a camp­site or ride their moun­tain bike. Both Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats rat­ed “pol­lu­tion of lakes, rivers, and streams” as of equal impor­tance to employ­ment. When asked which was more impor­tant: pro­tect­ing clean water, air, and recre­ation or pro­duc­ing ener­gy and jobs, West­ern­ers went for water, air, and pub­lic lands by a fac­tor of more than 3:1.

Clean Jobs
Jobs are also tak­ing on a green tinge. When asked what kinds of jobs they want­ed to bring to their state, the most pop­u­lar answer was solar, wind, and renew­able ener­gy. Out­door recre­ation was seen as a bet­ter source of jobs than oil and gas. 85% approve lim­it­ing oil and gas drilling and pro­tect­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ly sen­si­tive places even in oil, coal and gas depen­dent Wyoming.

Zion Canyon National ParkWe Like Our Land Managers
When small towns strug­gle, the fin­ger often gets point­ed at the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment which owns large por­tions of land that gen­er­ates tim­ber for local mills and range­land for cows. But sup­port for the agen­cies is strong. Approval rates for the Park Ser­vice, For­est Ser­vice and Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ranged between 76% and 82%. Only 25% dis­agreed with the work of the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, the least under­stood agency.

Keep It Public 
When asked if pub­lic lands should be giv­en to states, the answer was a resound­ing no. In Utah and Neva­da, where new pro­tec­tions of Bear’s Ears and Gold Butte was “con­tro­ver­sial,” the sur­vey revealed that these Nation­al Mon­u­ments aren’t that con­tro­ver­sial at all. Uta­hans and Nevadans sup­port them by dou­ble-dig­it margins.

In Feb­ru­ary, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jason Chaf­fetz of Utah intro­duced a bill to sell off more than 3 mil­lion acres of pub­lic lands to pri­vate inter­ests. He was hit by an imme­di­ate back­lash from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. Hunters, fish­ers, out­door gear com­pa­nies, hik­ers, and campers flood­ed his inbox and Insta­gram feed. He with­drew the bill a week later.

We All Agree
Chaf­fetz shouldn’t have been sur­prised; love of pub­lic lands is built into the cul­ture of the West. We flock here for the wide-open spaces, not to make a fast buck. The peo­ple sur­veyed were more Repub­li­can than Demo­c­rat, more con­ser­v­a­tive than lib­er­al or mod­er­ate. But the val­ue of pub­lic lands and out­door recre­ation rings out loud­ly across the board. When he start­ed the Nation­al Park Ser­vice, Stephen Math­er saw pub­lic lands as a meet­ing ground where Amer­i­cans from all back­grounds and walks of life could enjoy their nation­al her­itage togeth­er on the trails and around the camp­fire. Here’s to that.