Support for Public Lands Growing

Survey sheds light on why Montanans care about public lands

By Rick Graetz

In 2014 and again in 2016, the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative sponsored a survey of Montana voters. We do this every other year to get a clear picture of where Montanans stand on a variety of proposals and policies regarding the management of our shared public lands. Once again, I am pleased to share the results of our most recent 2018 voter survey.

The credibility of information my program produces is important. We don’t take positions on the results but do stand by the integrity of every voter survey we have produced and unlike other polls, we publish the full results. These are complex issues and to ensure accuracy, we employ checks and balances. That includes using Republican and Democrat pollsters to balance the brief descriptions we test, polling a representative sampling size, and placing an emphasis on measuring trends to check the consistency of our results over time.

This year’s poll was consistent with what we’ve uncovered in the past. Namely, that conservation issues are important considerations for Montanans when they vote and that there is growing recognition that public lands are important contributors to the economy.

The survey results also shed light on why Montanans care about public lands. Montanans recreate on public lands more frequently than the national average. Over 80 percent of hunters and ninety-three percent of anglers in Montana say that they use public lands.

This year we wanted to test several new issues that are playing out in the headlines across the state. We discovered that regardless of the policy we tested Montanans are more often on the side of enhancing public lands not removing protections. That support is intensifying and is stronger today than it was just four years ago.

For instance, we used balanced description to test attitudes about current proposals in Congress to eliminate protections for certain Wilderness Study Areas and found only 11 percent supported this approach. Montanans are much more likely to want to keep these areas managed the way they are or protect some and release others in a more piece-meal approach.

We also uncovered statewide support for a recommendation by the Trump Administration to designate a National Monument outside of Glacier National Park. Seventy-six percent support of Montanans support a National Monument for the Badger-Two Medicine region. Montanans also want to diversity the economic benefits of these public lands for other communities. Seventy two percent of Montanans would support more tourism efforts to feature and promote less visited public lands in the state.

The full poll is available on the UM Crown of the Continent and Great Yellowstone Initiative website for everyone to see. We encourage the public to browse the poll and look at the diversity of political persuasions, age, geographic locations, and lifestyles that we surveyed across the state.

I want to highlight one final survey result that politicians may want to keep in mind as they formulate legislation impacting public lands: Stakeholder and community input is important. Ninety-seven percent of voters surveyed said that it was important that a wide range of stakeholders and communities were provided the opportunity to give their input before decisions are made related to the level of protections on existing public lands.

Rick Graetz is director of the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative.

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