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Earth Day is on the minds of many

Environmentalists in Utah are thrilled by results of poll

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People in the West and across the nation are willing to pay for conservation measures, according to results of a poll released by The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Lands just in time for Earth Day — being celebrated today, April 22, in many places.

The poll shows Western voters of both parties are so concerned about protecting clean air and water that they would support additional taxes to pay for the preservation of quality-of-life issues.

And voters will strongly consider a candidate's stance on environmental protection in deciding whom to support in November's elections, according to the poll.

"These national results reflect what we're hearing throughout the state of Utah," said Dave Livermore, Utah state director for The Nature Conservancy. "The protection of our water quality, agricultural lands and Utah's special places is an issue that resonates with all of us."

Sixty-five percent of American voters surveyed said they were willing to support small increases in taxes to pay for programs to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and neighborhood parks.

The poll is good news for a local effort to put before voters the first statewide conservation initiative in Utah history.

Local conservation officials Wednesday urged Utahns to celebrate Earth Day by supporting the Utahns for Clean Water, Clean Air & Quality Growth initiative. The initiative proposes a $150 million conservation bond to fund projects that protect and improve Utah's sources of drinking water, family farms and ranches, critical wildlife habitat and community recreation areas.

"We are extremely excited about the incredible support we've received so far," said Amanda Smith, president of Utahns for Clean Water, Clean Air & Quality Growth.

The group has 100 volunteers working for the cause who have collected 3,236 signatures. "But the next few weeks are crucial to our success, and we really need more Utah residents to show their support," Smith said.

The group is trying to collect 26,764 signatures by May 30 to get the initiative on the November ballot.

"Protecting the quality of life we enjoy today and leaving that same quality of life for future generations are major issues of concern to people throughout the country and especially in the West," said Adam Eichberg of the Trust for Public Land, an organization supporting the initiative.

Volunteers can call Jamie Gibbs at 801-531-7304 or visit www.utahlands2004.org.

Results of the poll show voters are willing to support efforts like the initiative in Utah, said Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land.

"For a decade, we have worked in communities across the nation on ballot measures to create new public funding sources for open space, and these funds, local taxes and bonds are often approved by large majorities," he said.

That is true both for areas that are heavily Democratic and areas that are heavily Republican, he said, as well as for rural communities, urban centers and suburbs.

Fifty-six percent of voters nationwide say they would pay $50 per year more toward environmental efforts, according to the poll, including 50 percent of Republican voters. That amount would translate into large increases for state and local conservation programs.

In the West, 55 percent of voters say they would personally be willing to pay $50 more in taxes per year, and higher percentages of people in the West and in the nation support $10 increases, according to the poll.

"The survey results show that solid majorities of all key voter subgroups favor increasing taxes to fund conservation programs in their area, suggesting that conservation-related ballot measures are poised to once again fare well in the 2004 elections," read a statement issued Wednesday by The Nature Conservancy. "Moreover, despite the end of the go-go '90s in the West, voters in this region still say their communities are growing too fast."

The poll was conducted April 3-12, 2004, jointly by Republican research firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates.

The two companies conducted telephone interviews with registered voters likely to cast ballots in November 2004. The interviews included a national sample of 800 voters and 500 additional voters in the western United States, specifically Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

"Overall, the survey results make clear that voters nationally and in the West continue to view the conservation of land and water as critical to their quality of life," The Nature Conservancy poll administrators wrote in their report. "That concern about conservation will continue to make itself felt in voters' support for ballot measures and candidates who will provide funding or take action to protect land and water in their communities."

"It's clear from this national survey that voters are deeply concerned about clean air and water, and people put a high priority on protecting them," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

"If it's true people vote with their feet," McCormick added, "then this survey suggests a lot of folks are wearing hiking boots and deeply value the preservation of natural areas in their communities."


E-mail: lucy@desnews.com