Finding Common Ground

The West entrance, know as Valley View, of Yosemite National Park in California.

This week, as we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our nation, much of the talk here in Washington continues to be (are we tired of this yet?) about how divided our country is. But a just-completed public opinion poll done for The Nature Conservancy by a bi-partisan consulting team reveals that the overwhelming majority of Americans from all political perspectives still believe in conserving our natural resources and that they consider conservation patriotic. Patriotic? That’s right. More than four in five American voters say that “conserving our country’s natural resources — our land, air, and water-is patriotic.”

Other results in the poll confirm the finding that Americans still care deeply about our country’s natural resources:

  • Three-quarters of the electorate believes that public lands are one of the things government “does best.”
  • In fact, public lands such as some of the iconic national parks, are far preferred in Americans’ summer vacation plans.
  • Three-quarters say that even with federal budget problems, funding for conservation should not be cut.
  • Voters are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Fully 83 percent are willing to pay additional taxes to protect American land, water and wildlife.
  • Underlying some of this support and willingness to pay may be a sense that there are economic benefits to conservation. Voters are twice as likely to say that protections for land, air, water and wildlife have a positive impact on jobs (41 percent), than a negative impact (17 percent), or little impact one way or the other (33 percent). Underlying some of this support and willingness to pay may be a sense that there are economic benefits to conservation.
  • The overwhelming majority of American voters rejects the notion that protecting our environment is at odds with a strong economy.

If you link to the report of the pollsters, you will see that these results for the most part hold across party affiliation and demographic groups.

The poll results are puzzling, however, in that they seem so out of line with recent actions by Congress. A good example is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which provides funding for the creation of national, state and local parks, wildlife refuges and forests — the kinds of places Americans visit on the Fourth of July.

Last week, the House of Representatives deleted from the Transportation Bill a provision that would provide two years of certain funding for the LWCF. And the House Appropriations Committee cut the President’s proposed funding of LWCF for FY 2013 by 80% along with deep cuts to other natural resource programs.

And yet, in a specific poll question about LWCF more than four-in-five American voters (82 percent) support ensuring that a “portion of federal offshore drilling fees already being paid by oil and gas companies is dedicated to LWCF, which was created by Congress so that these fees could be used for conserving natural areas, wildlife, and clean water and providing access to outdoor recreation throughout the country.”

In response to this seemingly stark contrast between government actions and voter views, Mark Tercek, President of The Nature Conservancy said, “Given these poll results, we are deeply concerned that public conservation policy in our country today is departing from America’s bipartisan conservation tradition and does not reflect the current thinking of Americans across the political spectrum. In particular, the idea that there is inevitably a conflict between our economy and our environment is not borne out by popular views. The vast majority of Americans value the many ways nature benefits them and their communities — just as strongly as they always have.”

On the Fourth of July tens of millions of Americans head to city and state parks, beaches, waterways, and National Parks to be with their families and away from the cares and worries of everyday life. They are celebrating our nation’s independence, but, in effect, they are also celebrating, through their actions and preferences, 150 years of America’s conservation history. Our new poll reveals substantial agreement among voters about the value of conserving the magnificent land and water that define this country’s way of life and national character. Perhaps continued commitment to saving such places can be the literal and symbolic common ground that can begin to heal some of our society’s other divisions.

[Image: The West entrance, know as Valley View, of Yosemite National Park in California. Image source: Jan Maguire]

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  1. This is an amazingly well thought-out, researched, and written piece; very persuasive. It strikes a chord with me because, as an artist (and one who is a visual advocate for the protection of nature—the current focus of my artwork), it is difficult not to see the machinations of Congress as a perceived impediment to the continued protection of our natural resources. Thank you, Bob Bendick.

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