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A decade of polling by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project shows that people across the West care deeply and are increasingly concerned about issues related to our outdoor way of life and the quality of our air, water, wildlife and public lands. The Colorado College Conservation in the West poll surveys the views of eight Mountain West states including Montana and looks at how these priorities and concerns influence voters.

The poll results released this week show that nationally, 80% consider a decision maker’s stance on issues involving air, water, public lands and wildlife when gauging their support; up significantly from just 31% in 2016. In Montana, that number jumps to 84%, with 75% of us considering ourselves conservationists, concerned with issues that affect our outdoor way of life, and our natural assets. Half of those polled across the West – 44% – said that these issues are not just important, but a “primary factor” in their decision to support elected officials.

The poll touches on everything from the basic qualities of our air, water and wildlife issues woven through our public lands, as well as the opinions about policies that focus on protections, issues related to oil and gas development, mining on public lands, climate change concerns and support for programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund that invest in our outdoor infrastructure.

In Montana, 67% of us support full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and 73% think that portions of existing public lands where wildlife migrate each year should not be open to oil and gas drilling. Fifty-seven percent of those polled think that action should be taken to address climate change – a +12 percentage-point jump from 2011. Past research by the University of Montana offers related findings, with 82% of Montanans overwhelmingly saying that public lands help the economy.

Clearly, our public lands and the outdoor way of life that supports our communities, jobs and the economy of the state are of deep importance to us in Montana. The Colorado College poll shows that support for conservation on public lands remains consistent and strong over the last decade, with “urgency and demand for action” intensifying as voters in Montana and the West “increasingly believe their lands and lifestyles are coming under attack” from impacts of threats to our public lands. The urgency behind these concerns is not just about our way of life, but our livelihoods as well.

Montana’s outdoor industry supports 71,000 jobs and consumer spending at over $7 billion. With nearly 34 million acres of public lands serving over 20 million visitors annually, our outdoors are a critical pillar in a thriving and robust economy across the state.

Gov. Bullock, who this week presented on the findings of the Conservation in the West Poll summed it up, saying, “Folks out West have a special appreciation for our public lands, and we know our public lands are our heritage, our birthright, and our great equalizer.” In addition to providing the backdrop for our Montana way of life, study after study shows our public lands are crucial to our economic future and the small businesses leading the way.

Our public lands, our air, clean water and wildlife are all critical to our Montana way of life. In the roster of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, 225 business and roughly 4,600 jobs are directly impacted by our outdoors, and the competitive advantages that our public lands provide. It is clear that as Montanans, and citizens of the West, we are increasingly concerned, and want our elected leaders to fight for responsible conservation policies because jobs and our economic future depend on it. We hope those officials and those campaigning to hold public office are listening.

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Marne Hayes represents Business for Montana’s Outdoors.