Poll: Wyomingites value natural resources
In 2004, The Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming began conducting polls to gauge voter interest on conservation issues, specifically those related to wildlife habitat and open spaces, says Kit Freedman, Ruckelshaus Institute project and outreach coordinator.
The Ruckelshaus Institute released results from the 2018 Public Opinion Poll of Natural Resources Conservation in late October, and results showed broad support across the state for conservation issues.
“These results show that Wyoming voters identify as hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists at much higher rates than the national level. It should come as no surprise then that Wyoming voters in all corners of the state value conservation and oppose efforts that would negatively impact the open spaces and wildlife that contribute to the high quality of life for people in the state,” says Nicole Korfanta, Ruckelshaus Institute director.
Inside the poll
The poll was conducted Oct. 9-13 by Lori Weigel of the firm Public Opinion Strategies and collected responses from 600 registered voters from across the state. The survey was organized in partnership with Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, as well as new sponsor the Wyoming Conservation Legacy, which includes the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Wyoming Wildlife Federation.
“This is the fourth time we’ve done the poll since 2004,” says Freedman. “It’s nice to have a diversity of partners, because we think it adds credibility to the poll.”
The poll is conducted every four years. During each poll, a battery of consistent questions is asked to strategically track changes in voter attitudes.
“We also add a few questions that are specific to new and emerging topics to engage Wyoming voters in those issues,” Freedman commented.
Take home message
After reviewing results, Freedman said the overall take away was a high level of support for conservation generally among Wyoming’s voters.
“This year, nine out of 10 survey respondents indicated that conservation topics are a priority and that they consider these topics when deciding whether to support an elected officials,” he explained. “Across the board, there is support throughout Wyoming for conservation.”
Further, Freedman emphasized, “In particular, issues related to water availability for farming and ranching, the loss of family farms and ranches, water quality and quantity, the decline in big game populations, loss of wildlife habitat and loss of open space were rated as important as issues like education, healthcare, jobs and the economy.”
Across the board, regardless of political affiliation, rural or urban status or geographical distribution, the survey showed, support across the state for conservation.
“Another interesting finding was the level of support for funding of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, as well as a willingness to pay local taxes to fund conservation locally,” Freedman says. “These findings also held true across political affiliations and geographically across the state.”
In addition to topics related strictly to conservation, a number of questions address the agriculture industry, including topics related to water availability for ranching and the future of farming and ranching.
“We saw an increase in voters who said loss of farms and ranches, as well as loss of working areas and landscapes as they are broken up by development, were conservation issues of concern,” Freedman summarizes. “Farms and ranches are an essential part of the local landscape and open spaces. While voters might not make that connection, it’s something we’re thinking about when we look at results from the poll.”
Additionally, Freedman notes that the agricultural industry plays a key role in maintaining habitat for wildlife, as well as other important conservation issues.”
Freedman also says the rates at which Wyoming voters say they engage in some form of outdoor recreation continues to be high, even reaching levels above what were expected.
“Wyoming has open spaces and public land, so it makes sense that the people who here are outside hunting, fishing and recreating,” he explains. “The rates at which respondents identified as being hunters or anglers engaged in outdoor recreation are much higher than those seen across the nation.”
Using the results
With the results of the poll, Freedman explains that Ruckelshaus Institute works to engage Wyomingites in issues that are a top concern.
“This poll provides data that are specific to Wyoming and helps us understand what voters are thinking about and to be able to respond with different initiatives or opportunities,” he explains, noting that results are applied to spark conversations related to conservation and natural resources.
“For example, in the 2014 poll, we saw interest in issues related to wildlife habitat and development,” Freedman notes. “From that, in 2015, the Ruckelshaus Institute helped convene an emerging issues forum to bring together stakeholders to hold conversations around the idea of migration corridors for big game.”
The forum is a bi-annual event held by Ruckelshaus Institute that strives to be on the leading edge of important conservation conversations in the state and region, and they are able to utilize the poll to steer topics for important conversations moving forward.
Freedman emphasizes, “What we see today, though, is a significant level of support among Wyoming voters for conservation issues.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.