A new bipartisan poll indicates that 76 percent of Wyoming voters strongly agree that public lands are "essential" to the state's economic prosperity, though Wyomingites' views on development differ significantly from neighboring states.
The project's director, Colorado College economist Walt Hecox, said today during a press call that the recession, wildfires, foreign oil, the fiscal cliff haggling in Washington and more have made the past few years especially difficult economically.
"In the face of this, what astounds me is the 91 percent that say public lands are part of the central economy," Hecox said. He added that even with the mentalities of "'drill, baby drill' and 'dig it,' the region is holding on to some core values which have been sustaining it."
The study took a random sample of 400 voters from each regional state — Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Utah — to form a complete picture of the impact of public lands in the public's eye. It is the third year the college has conducted the poll.
In Wyoming, 76 percent of respondents agreed strongly with the essential nature of public lands, while those less enthusiastic in their support bump total agreement to 94 percent. And 71 percent of Wyoming residents self-identify as conservationists.
While these findings are fairly representative of what was found in other states, Wyoming deviates from the norm with respect to preferences for the kind of power generation that gets the most development.
"It was interesting that some of the views on energy, in particular, were pretty different," said Lori Weigel, the Republican pollster conducting the bipartisan poll.
Each respondent was given the choice of two top energy sources to exploit, and Wyoming was the only state not to choose solar and wind. Instead, Wyoming chose wind as the top source with 44 percent of respondents calling it out and natural gas came in second with 42 percent naming it. Coal came in a close third with 41 percent who wanted to see it developed more. Regionally, the average was 11 percent for coal.
Wyoming also viewed development of public lands for energy use differently. For instance, Wyoming was the only state where more than half of residents did not agree with a statement advocating stronger standards for energy development on public lands. While 49 percent of Wyoming voters supported the statement, 43 percent would prefer to see more public lands open to energy development. In neighboring Colorado, 62 percent favor stricter standards while only 33 percent voiced support for more development.
"Wyoming tends to be more conservative than the rest of (the states)," said Dave Metz, the Democratic pollster. "Oil and gas development is happening at a faster clip there than they are in the other states."
Other independent nonpartisan research bolsters this poll's findings. Headwaters Economics found on average that "Western non-metro counties have a per capita income that is $436 higher for every 10,000 acres of protected federal lands within their boundaries."
"The West is outpacing the rest of the country in terms of jobs and income growth," said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters. "We've got an awful lot of open land; we've got an enviable way of life. CEOs are telling us they use this as a way to recruit talent."
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