Ruckelshaus Institute explores natural resource conservation opinions in WyoWritten by Saige Albert
Laramie – As part of the Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative, the Ruckelshaus Institute recently released a new study, titled “Public Opinion on Natural Resource Conservation in Wyoming.”
“This is the third iteration of the ‘Public Opinion on Natural Resource Conservation’ poll,” says Kit Freedman, research scientist within the Ruckelshaus Institute. “Previous polls were conducted in 2004 and 2007.”
The survey was commissioned through a partnership between the Ruckelshaus Institute, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming.
“Results of the poll were then published by the Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative,” Freedman continues. “It is a long-running collaboration among a number of departments on the University of Wyoming campus. The Initiative focuses on raising awareness and sharing information related to open spaces in Wyoming.”
The results of the “Public Opinion on Natural Resource Conservation in Wyoming” poll were summarized in a report written by Freedman and Nicole Korfanta, PhD.
The poll was conducted in February 2014 by two independent polling firms who completed 500 telephone interviews with randomly selected registered voters across Wyoming.
Survey respondents were 48 percent male and 52 percent female. Politically, 69 percent self-identified as conservative, 29 percent as moderate and 11 percent as liberal.
“Poll participants were presented a list of issues and asked to rank each as ‘extremely serious,’ ‘very serious,’ ‘somewhat serious’ or ‘not a problem,’” reads the summary report.
The results of the poll showed that the biggest concern of Wyoming citizens related to conservation is the loss of family farms and ranches across the state. Seventy-six percent of respondents expressed concern over farm and ranch losses.
“Other conservation issues of serious concern included the availability of water for farming and ranching, declining number of big game animals,and fragmentation of natural areas and ranchlands by new housing and commercial development,” the poll summary reads. “These findings are consistent with the values articulated by respondents.”
Respondents also support funding of conservation projects, particularly those with a focus on protecting resources.
“Voters identified keeping and storing more water in Wyoming as a top concern, followed closely by maintaining the strength of Wyoming’s agricultural and tourism industries and protecting and restoring the quality of rivers, lakes and streams,” Freedman and Korfanta wrote.
Further, voters noted that preservation of family farms and ranches and protection of the Greater Yellowstone Area, fish and wildlife habitat, open spaces and Wyoming’s western way of life should receive priority for funding.
Freedman notes that several findings from the poll are important and enlightening.
“Overall, the poll shows that Wyomingites have a strong interest in conservation and are dedicated to protecting land, air, water, wildlife, habitat and ranchlands in the state,” he says.
Survey respondents also reported strong support for the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT), which was created by the state legislature in 2005.
“The WWNRT was created to support natural resources conservation,” Freedman comments. “A majority of poll participants supported full funding of the Trust to protect open space, wildlife, ranchlands and water resources in the state.”
Freedman notes that it is particularly interesting that Wyoming citizens are willing to invest in conservation, given the current economic climate.
Fifty percent of respondents even said they would support a small increase in taxes to obtain matching state funds for conservation and protection efforts.
“Among those who would favor a small increase in local taxes, 74 percent said they would be willing to pay an additional $50 to $100 annually in local taxes toward a matching fund,” wrote Freedman and Korfanta.
“The findings were similar to previous polls that have been done,” he continues. “This is an interesting finding, given Wyoming’s recent economic climate.”
“The purpose of the poll really is to let people in Wyoming know what others think about conservation,” he explains.
“People do value open spaces and keeping those open spaces protected,” Freedman says.
The final document summarizing findings of the poll can be obtained by visiting uwyo.edu/haub/Ruckelshaus-institute and searching for Publication B-1258.
Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative
The Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative is a long-term project designed to support working landscapes for agriculture, wildlife and sustainable communities through applied research, information, education and community-based decision-making assistance.
“Wyomingites have demonstrated a desire for healthy, open landscapes, vibrant communities and growing economies,” says the Ruckelshaus Institute website.
The Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative is a collaborative effort of the William D. Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, the UW Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the UW Department of Geography, the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center and University of Wyoming Extension.