New Survey Separates Rhetoric from Reality When it Comes to Mountain West Voters’ Support for National Public Lands
Wide margins of support for local efforts to protect public lands as national monuments; voters want a balanced approach to energy development
Against an uptick in anti-public lands rhetoric from militant extremists, a new Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll released today revealed strong public support for efforts to protect and maintain national public lands.
The poll surveyed the views of voters in seven Mountain West states on key public lands issues affecting the region, including proposals to designate new national monuments in the West, establish new environmental and safety standards for oil and gas drilling, and prioritize renewable energy production on public lands.
Central to recent local controversies in Burns, Oregon and elsewhere, the poll—for the first time in its six-year history—asked voters about efforts to turn national public lands owned by all Americans over to state or private control. 58 percent of respondents oppose giving state governments control over national public lands. 60 percent of respondents oppose selling significant holdings of public lands like national forests to reduce the budget deficit. That view was echoed in Nevada, where just 30 percent of respondents identify as supportive of Cliven Bundy, the local rancher who led an armed confrontation with federal authorities in April 2014.
“Charges of government overreach from the ideological fringes are making headlines, but in reality most Westerners in this poll favor greater protection and sensible use of the open lands and national treasures that define the region,” said Eric Perramond, professor in the Southwest Studies and Environmental Programs at Colorado College, and the Faculty Director of the State of the Rockies Project.
The poll also broke new ground in examining public views on the creation of new national monuments—a topic that has often been portrayed as controversial and unpopular in the West. Yet in Utah, a tribal proposal to protect nearly two million acres of existing public lands surrounding the Bears Ears Buttes as a national monument received 66 percent support from respondents. In Arizona, 73 percent of respondents approved of a proposal to protect 1.7 million acres of existing public lands in the Grand Canyon Watershed as a national monument.
According to the poll, monuments created at the end of the Clinton administration, which generated controversy at the time, enjoy wide margins of support today. Across the West, the poll showed overwhelming support—80 percent in favor—for future presidents protecting public lands with a national monument designation.
“These results make clear Western communities care deeply about the public lands that embody the best of our nation’s culture, spirit and beauty,” said former U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. “Western voters see our outdoor heritage as integral to our economy and our way of life, and they certainly don’t want to see their public lands seized by ideologues or sold off by politicians in Washington.”
The poll also looked at energy issues at a time when price fluctuations and market changes make the future of oil, gas and coal industries unpredictable. Voters expressed a balanced view when it comes to how national public lands are used by private industries:
52 percent of respondents approve of continuing drilling and mining at the current pace, but with increased safeguards for land and water—a view that significantly outweighs alternatives approaches, including increasing drilling and mining (10 percent), maintaining the current pace without additional safeguards (10 percent), and stopping all drilling and mining (22 percent). 76 percent of respondents want to continue tax incentives for solar and wind energy production. 58 percent of respondents support increasing the royalty fees paid by companies that drill for oil and gas or mine for coal and minerals on national public lands.
80 percent of respondents agree with a proposed Obama Administration rule to require oil and gas producers who operate on national public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air.
Additional key findings include:
Ahead of the 2016 elections, 75 percent of respondents say issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife are an important factor in deciding whether to support an elected public official, compared to other issues like health care and education. 83 percent of respondents believe the drought is a serious issue and in Colorado River Basin states (CO, NV, NM & UT) strong majorities favor using the current water supply more wisely over diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas. 75 percent of respondents support the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 80 percent of respondents believe the U.S. Forest Service should be allowed to treat the largest and most expensive wildfires as natural disasters in order to have access to emergency disaster funding. 72 percent of respondents say national public lands, such as national forests, national monuments, or wildlife refuges help their state economy
This is the sixth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. The 2016 Colorado College Conservation in the West survey is a bipartisan poll conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. Nevada voters were included in the survey for the first time this year.
The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of seven Western states (AZ, CO, MT, NV, NM, UT & WY) for a total 2,800-person sample. The survey was conducted in December and has a margin of error of +/-2.74 percent nationwide and +/ -4.9 percent statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the Colorado College website.
From The Montrose Daily Press (Devin O’Brien):
The Shavano Conservation District will provide an opportunity for area residents to slake their thirst for information about the Colorado Water Plan and water management.
The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference will address the recently adopted plan as well as management methods, Colorado water law, funding for irrigation improvements and wildlife habitat, according to a press release. Shavano Conservation District President Ken Lipton said information about the future of water use in Colorado is applicable to those whose interest is agricultural, environmental or otherwise.
“It’s important that every citizen understands the Colorado Water Plan,” Lipton said. “It’ll affect everyone.”
One of the areas the conference will cover will be small acreage management, which, according to Lipton, is growing in popularity in Montrose and Ouray counties.
John Rizza, a Small Acreage Management Specialist, is one of the speakers at the event. Water rotation among small farms and crops able to withstand drought are among the subjects he will address.
Oftentimes small acreage farms are formed by dividing land from a larger farm. In terms of water, this means a source is being used by multiple people for the first time, according to Rizza. Communication with other landowners is necessary to ensure a water source isn’t compromised through multiple people watering their fields on the same day. This is especially important in areas prone to droughts.
Another method of small acreage water management comes in the form of the perennial farm system. Perennial crops, such as the feed crops of Needle and Thread, Blue Grama, Indiana Rice Grass and Wheatgrass, are able to adapt to waterless conditions by hibernating. What results is a crop that is able to thrive until precipitation returns to an area.
“They can handle a little bit of drought and still produce a well for landowners,” Rizza said…
Other speakers include Special Policy Advisor to the Governor for Water John Stulp and former Division Four Water Court Referee Aaron Clay.
The conference is sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resource Conservation Service in addition to the Shavano Conservation District…
The event will be 2 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 20 at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP by calling (970) 249-8407, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Palmer Land Trust: Pueblo County, Lower Ark Valley at risk
Keeping farms and ranches productive is more than just a quaint notion for the Palmer Land Trust, which sees agriculture as the thread that holds together the fabric of the Lower Arkansas Valley.
And Pueblo County should be on guard.
“This doesn’t work unless the larger community makes an investment and says, ‘We want to save this,’ ” said Matt Heimerich, coordinator for Palmer’s initiative in the Lower Arkansas Valley.
Heimerich and Executive Director Rebecca Jewett met Wednesday with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board to discuss progress with a two-pronged program to keep irrigation water on farms and to improve sustainable ranching methods.
“We’re at the front end of our initiative to protect farmland in the Arkansas Valley,” Jewett said. “This is just a starting point.”
Two projects last year moved the effort ahead:
- Palmer is working with the Nature Conservancy on turning around the 25,000-acre BX Ranch in eastern Pueblo County. A conservation easement and a trial program to better manage grasslands aim at eventually finding a buyer for one of the region’s oldest ranches.
- Palmer also is helping to preserve farms on the High Line Canal near Rocky Ford in a demonstration project the trust believes can be used as a model for other ditches, including the Bessemer Ditch in Pueblo County.
“The Bessemer is closer to Pueblo and the prices of farms increase dramatically. The water rights and soil are good, and we want to work there before it’s too late,” Jewett said.
It’s not an easy process, mainly because conservation values for water rights typically reflect actual value rather the potential for future sales to cities.
Heimerich knows all too well the potential side of the equation. As a Crowley County farmer and former commissioner, he has seen the devastating effect of dewatering thousands of acres of productive farm ground when the water was sold to Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora.
He’s optimistic that cities won’t be able to practice the same sort of buy-and-dry tactics of the past, but said Pueblo County is not immune and should be doing everything it can to protect agriculture.
“Think of Pueblo Chiles, that’s a great start. There’s no reason Pueblo can’t be thought of in the same way as Sonoma or Bourdeaux,” Heimerich said. “Look at what they did with Rocky Ford melons.”
In addition to branding, Heimerich wants to encourage food-processing industries to locate here in order to increase the value of local products, another area Palmer is pushing communities to act.
Finally, he thinks the newly adopted Colorado Water Plan will provide a barrier for cities to carry out the sorts of water raids which decimated Crowley County.
“Crowley County in the 1960s had the highest percentage of people who claimed agriculture as their primary source of income. I think that’s what got me interested in the land trust,” Heimerich said.
“The municipalities need water, but know that under the state water plan it will be an uphill political fight. The Palmer Land Trust is part of a way to manage water so that farmers can continue to farm.”
Click here to listen to David McGimpsey’s (@dtm1993) latest podcast. Here’s the intro from the website:
Irrigated agriculture expert Daniele Zaccaria joins The Water Values Podcast for an in-depth look at the state of irrigated agriculture. Daniele has been around irrigated agriculture his entire life and has a lot of knowledge to share about how irrigated agriculture works and where it’s headed. Tune in for an informative and fun talk with Daniele.
In this session, you’ll learn about:
The size of California’s agricultural sector How much water the ag sector uses in a “normal” California year How that water is split between groundwater and surface water Where the water comes from for irrigated agriculture The different irrigation methods Which irrigation methods are more water-efficient The trade-offs involved with improved water-efficient irrigation Where Daniele sees irrigated ag heading in terms of water use and efficiency How irrigation water is priced Environmental impacts of irrigated agriculture
From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel):
After failing to pass the state legislature in 2015, Democratic lawmakers plan to again introduce a bill allowing the use of rain barrels for outdoor irrigation. Its sponsors say Colorado is the only state that outlaws the practice.
Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, says the new bill will look similar to the one that failed last session, but she’s also working with opponents in hopes of better success in 2016.
From TaosAcequias.org (Devon G. Peña):
Colorado Open Lands and The Acequia Institute are pleased to announce the completion of a project establishing a conservation easement on the Institute’s 181-acre acequia farm in Viejo San Acacio, Colorado.
The easement will also protect water rights on the oldest ditch in Colorado. The San Luis People’s Ditch (La Acequia De La Gente) is a gravity-fed irrigation system which was dug by hand and draught horses in 1851 and later widened and extended by plow. It was eventually awarded the first adjudicated water rights in Colorado, nearly a quarter of a century before Colorado became a state.
The Acequia Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting acequia research and community knowledge, purchased one of the varas, which was originally owned by Dario Gallegos, a founding member of the town of San Luis. The Institute worked to convert the property from a center pivot back to the historic flood irrigation methods practiced by acequias.
Devon G. Peña, founder of the Acequia Institute, is a leading scholar on acequia history and culture, and is a passionate practitioner of acequia irrigation. Alfalfa is grown on the property and the Acequia Institute has been working on a seed saving and exchange that focuses on re-establishing the integrity of local heirloom varieties of corn and beans.
Not only does the property support agricultural production, but it has incredible wildlife habitat as well. The Rio Culebra runs through the property and supports a blue ribbon fishery. The farm contains 77 acres of wetlands and serves as a winter concentration area for bald eagles. Located just west of the town of San Luis, near the community of San Acacio, the farm is visible to travelers on the Los Caminos Antiguos National Scenic Byway.
This project was made possible by funding from The Gates Family Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. The Acequia Institute matched the grant with an investment of $18,000.
Here’s the release from The Nature Conservancy (Heather Layman):
Congress has released its omnibus federal spending package, which sets funding levels for government agencies for Fiscal Year 2016. It also contains a number of conservation and environmental provisions that will affect America’s lands, waters, and wildlife, including a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and funding that program at $450 million next year. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill later this week.
The Nature Conservancy released the following statement from its global Managing Director for Public Policy Lynn Scarlett in response to the omnibus bill:
“The omnibus bill shows promise on many of the top conservation issues facing our nation today. The bill includes greater overall funding for critical land and water conservation work that supports secure and prosperous communities across America, and we are grateful for that commitment.
“We are particularly eager to see the Land and Water Conservation Fund continue its critical work for conservation and recreation. The short-term reauthorization of LWCF in the omnibus is helpful progress that will allow continued investment in the lands and waters that sustain our communities, boost our economy and safeguard our environment. And, it will do so with higher funding next year than the program has had for many years. We’re happy to see this vital and successful 50-year-old program continue to deliver important economic, recreation, and natural resource benefits to the American people.
“However, we—and many other Americans from coast to coast—believe we must continue to work toward a fully funded and permanent future for LWCF. Conserving our nation’s lands and waters is not a short-term need; it is a long-term foundation for our future. Congressional leaders on LWCF fought hard for a permanent reauthorization, and we are grateful for their dedication and persistence. We’ll do everything we can to support that continued effort to make a sustainable, long-term future for LWCF become reality.
“In another positive development, the omnibus bill makes enhanced tax deductions for conservation easement donations permanent. This ensures that one of the most effective tools for conserving private working lands across the country will be available for future generations. In addition, dozens of harmful riders that would have undermined environmental law were originally under consideration, but were dropped from the final bill. We appreciate the efforts of members of Congress who steadfastly opposed the riders.
“But we are disappointed this bill did not include a fix for the wildfire funding problem that has plagued forest health and restoration efforts for years. This was a missed opportunity, despite bipartisan support, a great deal of effort from congressional champions and broad consensus that action is urgently needed. We will continue to work with Congress to provide a solution next year.”
“In all, the omnibus bill advances the critical benefits that conservation of lands and waters provide to American communities and families. We are grateful for all of the hard work of our champions in Congress who made this possible. This omnibus is a hopeful signal for the even greater conservation policy progress we believe is necessary and possible in the very near future.”