Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Bipartisan Poll Finds Western Voters Oppose Transfer of America’s Forests and Public Lands to State Ownership
Press Release

RELEASE: Bipartisan Poll Finds Western Voters Oppose Transfer of America’s Forests and Public Lands to State Ownership

Washington, D.C. — According to new public opinion research released today, a majority of voters in eight Western states oppose the idea that the management and costs of America’s national forests and other public lands should be transferred to state governments.

The survey of 1,600 voters, conducted jointly by a bipartisan polling team of two leading national opinion research firms, Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, is the first in-depth analysis of Western voters’ views about state-level proposals to transfer U.S. public lands to state ownership.

Across the eight-state region, 59 percent of respondents agree that having state government assume full responsibility for managing U.S. public lands, including paying for all related costs, would not be fair to taxpayers in their state. These voters believe that transferring U.S. lands to state ownership would result in having to raise state taxes or sell off prized lands to cover expenses. Only 35 percent of respondents agreed with the arguments put forward by proponents of efforts to transfer U.S. lands to state control.

“In New Mexico, we have a deep connection to our public lands. They are part of our history, our culture, and our economy,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D). “These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way. Efforts to seize or sell off millions of acres of federal public lands throughout the West would bring a proliferation of closed gates and no trespassing signs in places that have been open and used for generations. These privatization schemes would devastate outdoor traditions such as hunting and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy.”

“It’s no surprise that Montanans want to keep their public lands public,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D). “These places not only create lasting memories for our families, they are also huge economic drivers for our communities. We must keep these treasured places accessible for our kids and grandkids, and I will keep working to improve that access.”

In 2012, the State of Utah enacted a law calling for U.S. public lands to be transferred to the state of Utah. Similar proposals have been put forward or are in development in seven other Western states.

“The overwhelming majority of Westerners view the national forests and other public lands they use as American places that are a shared inheritance and a shared responsibility,” said David Metz, president of FM3 Research. “Rather than supporting land transfer proposals, voters say their top priorities are to ensure public lands are protected for future generations and that the rangers and land managers have the resources they need to do their jobs.”

The survey was conducted by phone between September 10 and September 14 and reached 1,600 voters; 200 voters in each of the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. For a summary of state-specific results, click here.

“The idea of states taking over control and the costs for managing these lands is pretty divisive. Successful policy proposals usually start with far greater support,” said Lori Weigel, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “The first barrier this proposal seems to encounter is that while the federal government isn’t popular in these states, voters are far more positive about the role these specific agencies are playing.

Although more Westerners disapprove than approve of the job the federal government is doing  (27 percent approve, 68 percent disapprove), more Westerners approve than disapprove of the jobs that U.S. land management agencies are doing; the approval ratings for the Bureau of Land Management— 48 percent approve —the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—73 percent approve—the U.S. Forest Service—73 percent approve —and the National Park Service—76 percent approve—are all well higher than their disapproval ratings. What’s more, 94 percent of respondents’ said that their last visit to national public lands was a positive experience.

“This bipartisan research found that Americans believe we should be protecting parks and public lands for future generations, not selling them off to the highest bidder,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. “It also shows that the politicians and special interests behind these land seizures schemes are well outside the mainstream in the West.”

For an analysis of the survey results, click here.

For a PowerPoint summary of the bipartisan research, click here.

For the survey results, click here.

For more information, please contact Tom Caiazza at 202.481.7141 or [email protected].

Additional resources:

State Efforts to ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands, by Jessica Goad and Tom Kenworthy

“Bundy’s Buddies” – Four-part series from the Center for American Progress Action Fund

Correction: An earlier version of this press release inaccurately described the approval ratings for federal agencies.  This version is corrected to accurately reflect approval ratings from the survey.