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Rick Graetz

University of Montana co-director of the Crown of the Continent initiative Rick Graetz reviews photos in 2015 from a flight over the Mission Mountains and Swan Range looking for remnant glaciers. Most of the ice fields he explored in the 1970s have been reduced to stagnant snowbanks. 

In 2014 and again in 2016, the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative sponsored a survey of Montana voters. We wanted to get a clear picture of where Montanans stand on a variety of proposals and policies about the management of our public lands.

The credibility of information my program produces is important. We don’t take positions on the results but do stand by the integrity of every voter survey we have produced, and we publish the full results. These are complex issues and we employ checks to ensure the results are accurate. That includes using Republican and Democrat pollsters to balance the brief descriptions we test, a representative sampling size, and an emphasis on measuring trends to check the consistency of our results over time.

I am pleased to share the results of our third biannual public lands poll. As in past years, many of Montanans’ core values and attitudes are reflected in the survey’s findings: conservation issues remain important to their vote decision and over the last four years there has been an increased recognition that our economy, heritage, and way of life are tied to protecting our clean water, clean air, open spaces and public lands.

The survey results reflect some consistencies over the years. For instance, Montanans recreate more than the national average and use public lands frequently, with 80 percent of hunters and 93 percent of anglers saying that they use public lands.

Some trends also appear to be emerging — with more Montanans recognizing the economic benefits of Montana's public lands. And this year, we tested new issues that are playing out in the headlines across the state, including:

  • Attitudes about proposals in Congress to eliminate protections for certain Wilderness Study Areas: only 11 percent supported this approach;
  • A recommendation by the Trump administration to designate a national monument outside of Glacier National Park: 76 percent supported it;
  • And a proposal to feature less-visited public lands in the state's tourism promotion efforts: 72 percent of folks liked this idea.

Montanans are diverse in their political persuasions, age, geography and lifestyles, and the voters we surveyed are representative of our state. The poll and the results, in their entirety, are available on the UM Crown of the Continent and Great Yellowstone Initiative website for everyone to see.

I want to highlight one final survey result that politicians may want to keep in mind as they formulate legislation: Stakeholder and community input is seen as important by Montanans. Ninety-seven percent of voters surveyed said that it was important that a wide range of stakeholders and communities were provided the opportunity to provide their input before decision are made related to the level of protections on existing public lands.

Rick Graetz is co-director of the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative, is a member of the geography faculty and has been writing about and photographing Montana’s landscape for more than 30 years.

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