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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
May 08 2018

Montanans Overwhelmingly Support Public Lands - and this Poll is Proof

The Public Land Survey proves Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte still aren't listening

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 A new poll makes it clear that Montanans of all stripes support continued, and in many cases increased, protection of our wild and public lands. 

Conducted by the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative (COCGYI), the third Montana Public Lands Survey found broad support for continued protection of wilderness study areas (WSAs), designated Wilderness Areas, and collaborative legislation such as the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. Conducted by a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic pollsters, the poll also shows that support for protecting public lands is increasing in Montana. 

Altogether, these findings show that Montanans feel very differently about our public lands than Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, who are seeking to remove congressional protections from over 800,000 acres of Montana’s wildest public lands. By the objective measures of this poll, Daines and Gianforte are completely out of step with the conservation interests of Montanans on both ends of the political spectrum. 

“This is the third time we’ve had the opportunity to measure voter sentiment on public lands,” says University of Montana professor Rick Graetz, the director of COCGYI. “Support for policies that protect public lands is intensifying. It’s going up, not down. I think people are seeing the benefits of public lands on both sides of the aisle.” (1)

Support for the general benefits of wilderness, public lands, and public access is overwhelming. 90% of Montanans see the protection of public lands as being an important part of “maintaining what is best about Montana”, and 87% identify conservation issues as being important in their voting decisions. A further 82% of Montanans say that public lands help our economy, and 87% say public lands have a positive impact on our overall quality of life.  

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“Support for policies that protect public lands is intensifying. It’s going up, not down. I think people are seeing the benefits of public lands on both sides of the aisle." - Rick Graetz, director of COCGYI. 

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The responses to the poll are remarkable for another reason: they cut across political and geographical lines. 

“Again and again throughout the data we are seeing a strong bipartisanship,” says Lori Weigel, the Republican pollster who conducted the survey. (2)

Wilderness Study Areas

In their attempts to remove protections from WSAs, Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte have repeatedly cut Montanans out of the decision making process. Sen. Daines did not engage in public discussions before introducing his bill (S.2206) and still has yet to do so. He has rearranged his schedule at the last minute to avoid meeting with constituents, all while maintaining that his bill has been created with grassroots support. Likewise, Rep. Gianforte has avoided any and all public input on his bills (H.R. 5148 and 5149), preventing Montanans from having a say in how WSAs will be managed in the future. He, too, claims Montanans support this decision.

The numbers don’t back them up. 

“It’s three-quarters collectively, among Republicans, Independents and the vast, vast majority of Democrats, who are rejecting eliminating protections in these 29 wilderness study areas,” said Weigel. “That really cuts across types of communities in the state. It’s not just the preference of people living in more urban areas. (3)

  • 97% of Montanans say it’s important that “a wide range of stakeholders and local communities have the opportunity to provide their input before decisions are made.”
  • 77% say that input is  “very important”
  • 81% favor keeping WSAs as they are now or taking a tailored approach that adds protection in some areas while removing protections from others
  • Just 11% of Montanans favor blanket elimination of WSA protection

At best, Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte are out of touch with the wishes of the vast majority of Montanans. At worst, they’re actively ignoring them in an attempt to push their own agendas. 

“The majority of Montanans either want to keep things the way they are or designate new lands as Wilderness,” Weigel says. “They also definitely feel the process should be informed by local communities and stakeholders.” (4)

Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act is a collaborative bill that has been hammered out over 10 years by a diverse coalition of timber companies, ranchers, conservationists, outfitters, local businesses, snowmobilers, and other outdoor recreationists. Sen. Tester introduced the legislation last year, and a broad cross section of Montanans overwhelmingly supports the bill. 

  • 73% of Montanans support the BCSA
  • That support cuts across party lines (68% of Republicans, 74% of Independents, and 78% of Democrats)
  • Support is strong across the state (78% in Butte, 72% in Missoula, 70% in Billings, 64% in Great Falls)

These results echo the conclusions of a Montana Wildlife Federation poll released earlier this year. It’s clear that the BCSA enjoys strong support across the state. 

But, despite this strong public support, Sen. Daines continues to withhold his own support, saying he will only back the bill as part of political deal that includes S.2206, his unpopular effort to remove protections from hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands. 

Recent polls suggest it’s time for Sen. Daines to quit playing political games and start protecting our public lands.

Badger-Two Medicine

Late last year, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke proposed the creation of a national monument to protect the Badger-Two Medicine. While the proposal itself is fraught with inconsistency and dishonesty, it’s heartening to see that Montanans overwhelmingly support permanent protection for the natural, cultural, and historical significance of the Badger-Two Medicine.

  • 76% favor permanent protection for the Badger-Two Medicine
  • 67% of Republicans, 80% of Independents, and 79% of Democrats are in favor
  • Strong support for human-powered recreation, wildlife conservation, cultural and historical preservation, job creation, and increased involvement of the Blackfeet Nation

While the road to permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine remains winding and bumpy, Montanans clearly believe that this spectacular and culturally vital area is worth protecting. “There’s really a wide range of different benefits Montanans see coming from the establishment of this monument,” says Dave Metz. “It underlies that broad, strong, and bipartisan support.” (5)

We hope Sec. Zinke will support this “strong, bipartisan support” with a strong, straightforward proposal to protect the Badger-Two Medicine.

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“These national public lands are a part of people’s day-to-day lives. They’re a major source of recreation. (The people’s) support for it comes not just from sort of an abstract principled belief that this is a good idea, but because they secure direct benefits from it.” - Dave Metz

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Overall, the 2018 Public Lands Survey makes plain what some of our elected officials are refusing to hear: Montanans, whether Republican or Democrat, rural or urban, overwhelmingly believe in the importance of protecting our wild and public lands, and in their right to have a say in the process. 

“These national public lands are a part of people’s day-to-day lives,” says Dave Metz. “They’re a major source of recreation. (The people’s) support for it comes not just from sort of an abstract principled belief that this is a good idea, but because they secure direct benefits from it.” (6)

It’s clear what Montanans believe. It’s time for Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte to act accordingly.

- Gabriel Furshong, MWA deputy director

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) https://www.missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2018/05/um-survey-public-lands/
(2) https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/university-of-montana-poll-finds-support-for-public-lands-protections/article_a6d5e918-8824-5f40-bd4d-2d4234f34762.html (3) https://www.missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2018/05/um-survey-public-lands/
(4) https://www.missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2018/05/um-survey-public-lands/
 (5) http://mtpr.org/post/survey-shows-strong-support-public-lands-montana