Poll: People of Color Concerned for Future of Western Public Lands

Mark Richardson | Public News Service
Sunset brings out the brilliant colors of the Arizona desert at Saguaro National Park near Tucson, part of the millions of acres of public lands across the state. Photo Credit:  Nate Hovee / Adobe Stock

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — A recent poll of voters in Arizona and seven other western states shows increased support for conservation policies, and deep concern for the future of the region’s land, water, air and wildlife.

But the annual Conservation in the West Poll had a new wrinkle this year: an oversampling of Latino, Black and Native American voters.

Those communities expressed even higher support for protecting America’s natural resources than the overall population.

Maite Arce, president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, said the numbers show climate change affects some populations more than others.

“Communities of color are often disproportionately affected by environmental hazards like air and water pollution,” Arce explained. “Neighborhoods that are mostly Latino and Black are the ones that suffer the most, and injustices have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Ninety-two percent of Arizonans polled said the state should spend more money to protect public lands, although only 81% supported funding programs to ensure access to parks and natural areas for lower-income people and communities of color.

Arce noted decades of poverty and structural racism often have kept communities of color from accessing America’s national parks and public wilderness.

“Nature is supposed to be a great equalizer,” Arce observed. “In reality, however, American society distributes nature’s benefits and the effect of its destruction and decline unequally by race, income and age.”

Overall, Western voters overwhelmingly favored conservation plans such as cutting mineral exploration, reducing sources of carbon pollution and restoring and expanding national parks and monuments.

Lori Weigel, principal pollster with New Bridge Strategy, said there is a troubling “generation gap” in the poll results.

“Younger voters were the most pessimistic,” Weigel emphasized. “70% of those voters under the age of 35, when they looked at the future, they were more worried. Pessimism declined with age, so that our seniors were the most optimistic.”

The 11th annual Conservation in the West Poll was produced by Colorado College. They surveyed at least 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

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