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Conservation poll shows Utahns worry about air pollution, water supplies

Air quality suffers as an inversion covers the Salt Lake valley  Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
Air quality suffers as an inversion covers the Salt Lake valley Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah residents are overwhelmingly more concerned about air pollution and smog than their neighbors in five Western states and, behind Arizona and New Mexico, worry the most about inadequate water supplies.

These results and others are findings from the Conservation in the West poll that surveyed opinions of 2,400 voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah.

Results show that 88 percent of Utah residents cited smog as a serious problem, while the next highest was Arizona, where 79 percent of respondents said it was an issue. On water supplies, 82 percent of Utah residents said adequacy of supply was a serious problem, next to Arizona's 87 percent and New Mexico's 85 percent.

The bipartisan survey, released Tuesday as part of the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, has been conducted the last five years and taps opinions about land use, water supplies, the impact of public lands on the economy and other related issues. Notably, the top factors cited by residents for living in Utah were access to and recreation on public lands — characteristics that were more important than economic opportunities and quality of health care.

"Utah is blessed with landscapes and natural resources that people travel from all over the world to appreciate," said Kirstin Peterson of the Moab City Council in a prepared statement. "It's our duty to manage our public lands responsibly to ensure they will remain as assets for the Utah economy as well as for those who live and visit here."

Utah residents also inched out their neighbors by being more concerned about children not spending enough time outdoors, with the Beehive State slightly ahead of Arizona in its concerns. In the survey, 76 percent of Utah residents polled said it was a "serious" problem compared to Arizona's 75 percent.

The concern about connecting Utah youths with the outdoors has driven a significant portion of the state wildlife agency's public outreach that includes community fishing days that target youths, archery programs, youth hunts and more.

"The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is concerned about 'nature deficit disorder' among Utah's youth to the point that we restructured our agency to create a Wildlife Recreation Program in late 2012," said Dean Mitchell, conservation outreach section chief.

Mitchell added that under the program, the agency offers nearly 25 different programs focused on getting children outdoors.

Eric Perramond, State of the Rockies project director and a professor of human and environmental geography, said that each year, the poll's results reinforce the unique connection between public lands in the West and the people who live there.

“We’ve long known that public lands are a critical part of why people choose to live and work in the West, but our findings show that these remarkable places are truly the cornerstone of our lifestyle, our values, and what keeps us in the West,” Perramond said. “Towns and cities across the West have a unique competitive advantage over other regions — access to the peaks, canyons, and rivers found on national public lands."

Utah residents, in fact, cited a healthy, outdoor lifestyle as a "signficant" factor driving their residency here, with 57 percent of respondents pointing to that as a reason to live in Utah. Utahns, more than any other state, also cited "cost of living" as one of the overwhelming reasons why they live here.

The survey also showed that despite Utah being at the center of a political storm over who should control public lands, residents here consider the lands to be "American" places (60 percent) over state places (30 percent).

Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates were commissioned by the project to conduct the poll. Four hundred residents per state participated in the poll, which was conducted Dec. 29, 2014 and Jan. 3-11, 2015. It has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16