A majority of Western voters oppose Trump’s energy-focused public lands agenda, poll finds


(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Sky over the hoodoos of Devil's Garden in the former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. New polling finds widespread disapproval among Western voters of the Trump administration’s public land policies, including recent reductions to Grand Staircase and the Bears Ears National national monuments.

New bipartisan polling finds widespread disapproval among Western voters of the Trump administration’s public land policies, including recent reductions to two Utah national monuments and the expansion of lands being made available for energy extraction.

Colorado College’s Conservation in the West poll documented enthusiasm for the outdoors and the economic importance of outdoor recreation, as well as support for public lands policies that promote access and conservation, according to economics professor Walt Hecox, founder of the State of the Rockies Project.

The survey found 38 percent approval among all those polled of President Donald Trump’s handling of issues related to land, water and wildlife — (but 47 percent in Utah) — with 52 percent overall disapproving.

Hecox and his pollsters announced the findings Thursday in Colorado Springs as the Outdoor Retailers winter exhibition opens in its new Denver venue.

The outdoor industry pulled the show out of Salt Lake City last year over the organizers’ opposition to Utah’s public lands policies, which they see as antithetical to outdoor recreation and sound stewardship. The catalyst for the move was the Utah Legislature’s speedy passage of a resolution demanding the undoing of the new Bears Ears National Monument.

President Trump delivered that last month, when he signed executive orders cutting the 1.3-million acre monument by 85 percent and reducing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half.

Colorado College’s poll queried 3,200 voters between late December and early January, 400 in each of eight Intermountain states: Arizona; Colorado; Idaho; Montana; Nevada; New Mexico; Utah; and Wyoming.

This is the eighth year Hecox has commissioned the poll, employing Lori Weigel of the Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies and Dave Metz of the Democratic pollster Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

Pollsters asked questions on specific policy initiatives by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, such as increasing entrance fees at select national parks; privatizing park services; easing restrictions on methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands; opening areas near Grand Canyon National Park for uranium mining; and increasing public land for oil and gas development.

The poll found support lacking for most of these initiatives. Pluralities or majorities in all eight states opposed the park fee increase, for example, which Zinke is seeking to help pay for a severe maintenance backlog. At 42 percent, Utah showed the most support for raising fees during peak periods, and Nevada had the least support, at 32 percent.

Asked if they would prefer for Trump to place greater emphasis on protecting water, air quality and wildlife as opposed to producing more energy from public lands, Utah respondents favored conservation by a three-to-one margin. Region-wide, 60 percent opposed expanding public lands available for drilling.

Two-thirds said Trump’s reduction Utah’s national monuments was a bad move, with lowest levels opposition coming from Utah voters.

New polling commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute also found Utah voters divided over the monument reductions, but with a near or slight majorities favoring reduction rather than opposing it.

Minor differences in the two polls’ findings could reflect how the questions were asked. Colorado College’s pollsters prefaced their monument question with a description of resources the two Utah monument protect, then framed Trump’s order to trim them as removing those protection and reducing the size of the lands conserved by 2 million acres, before asking whether voters thought eliminating protections or reducing the size is a good or bad idea.

Pollster Dan Jones and Associates, on the other hand, phrased the Tribune’s poll question more directly to its 803 respondents: “Do you support or oppose President Trump’s action in shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent?”

Colorado College found 46 percent of Utah voters favored monument reductions, with 49 percent opposed. The Tribune/Hickley poll found 51 percent favored reduction of Bears Ears versus 43 opposed. The split was 49-45 split on the Grand Staircase question.