A solid majority of voters in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and Nevada believe that protecting the greater sage-grouse is an important part of preserving their Western way of life, according to a new bipartisan poll conducted by Benenson Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies. The survey was commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Bureau of Land Management is writing 15 plans to guide management of the bird’s habitat across public lands in 10 Western states. The BLM serves as the largest land manager of sage-grouse territory, and leading scientists and conservation groups criticized the agency’s earlier draft plans as being inadequate to conserve the species. In late June, the BLM released the first of its final plans, which addressed public lands in the Lander area of Wyoming. Pew called it a “mixed bag” because of its weak protections for the sage-grouse. The remaining plans are expected to be finalized by the end of the year, and the adequacy of those plans will be critical in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2015 decision about whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
The sage-grouse is known as an indicator species because its population numbers gauge the health of the sage-steppe ecosystem on which mule deer, pronghorn, and hundreds of other animal and plant species depend. Pew’s poll found that nearly 80 percent of voters in the four states believe that it is “important” to conserve the greater sage-grouse.
“These results demonstrate broad and durable backing for safeguarding the sage-grouse and its habitat,” said Danny Franklin, a partner at Benenson Strategy Group. “Voters believe this issue to be an important one, and they are in favor of strong plans to ensure the protection of the sage-grouse and other wildlife that live on these lands.”
Support crossed party lines, with rural voters and outdoorsmen (defined as those who hunt, fish, or go off-roading) providing particularly strong backing of conservation efforts. In addition, 76 percent of Oregon voters, 71 percent of Coloradans, 72 percent of Nevadans, and 63 percent of Montanans responded in favor of stronger action by the BLM to protect sage-grouse and its habitat.
“This poll shows support for the BLM to finalize scientifically based plans that strike a responsible balance between conservation and development,” said Ken Rait, a director of Pew’s U.S. public lands project. “Voters in the West from across the political spectrum, rural residents, and outdoorsmen want the BLM to safeguard this iconic bird and its habitat. The BLM has the public’s support to get this done and done right.”
In Oregon, 79 percent of rural voters and 74 percent of outdoorsmen support stronger BLM plans to protect sage-grouse and its habitat.
In Nevada, 60 percent of rural voters and 63 percent of outdoorsmen expressed support for stronger BLM plans.
In Colorado, 67 percent of rural voters and 70 percent of outdoorsmen support stronger plans.
In Montana, 54 percent of rural voters and 61 percent of outdoorsmen back stronger BLM plans to protect sage-grouse.
* Benenson Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm, conducted 2,001 phone interviews May 12-18, with roughly 500 interviews per state.