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National Motorized Recreation Group Releases Public Opinion Poll - Public Opposes Limiting Access to National Forests

Contact: Brian Hawthorne
Public Lands Director
BlueRibbon Coalition
208-390-5770 or 208-237-1008 ext 102  
Grand Junction, CO - April 18, 2006   - The BlueRibbon Coalition, a national trail-based recreational access group, today released results of a poll taken in Western Colorado showing wide opposition to further reductions in recreational access to National Forests. The survey of 500 registered voters was conducted in the eight counties in or surrounding the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre and Gunnison National Forests (known as GMUG forests) and shows nearly three-quarter of the region's voters reject Forest Service changes that could limit public access.

The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, one of the largest public policy polling firms in the nation with offices in Washington, Denver and Los Angeles. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.38%. The poll asked questions related to various new management proposals on the GMUG forests, which are in the process of updating their management plans. The poll also asked what residents thought about proposals from local environmental groups.

Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Director for BRC said; "This survey rebukes the efforts of environmental groups to restrict recreational access to public lands under the guise of protection.  This poll shows wide support across the political spectrum for balanced management of the region's National Forests."

The poll clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of residents in Western Colorado strongly object to further reductions in public access that have recently been proposed by the Forest Service. In fact, a clear majority favor encouraging access instead of increased limits in the form of new roadless or Wilderness areas as contemplated by the agency.

Fully 73% of local residents say the Forest Service should not reduce public access on local National Forests.  A majority (58%) say they strongly feel this way. Opposition to restrictive management is strong across the political spectrum, as 65% of Democrats, 76% of Independents and 74% of Republicans oppose increases in roadless and Wilderness areas.  Sportsmen are particularly opposed, as 81% of hunters and 76% of anglers say the Forest Service should not change regulations to reduce access or increase roadless areas.

Hawthorne noted that the more voters know about the specifics of the proposals the more inclined they are to oppose restrictive management. Fully 78% oppose reducing access among those who have seen "a lot" or "some" information on this issue, as compared to 69% opposition among those who have seen little or nothing about the issue. 

The poll also suggests the more the public learns about forest management the more they oppose closures. Residents were told that...
One proposal being considered by the Forest Service would more than double the area that would be closed to residents who choose to use a motorized vehicle to access the back country.  Residents would still be able to hike, bike or horseback ride on trails.

Having heard this additional information, six-in-ten (59%) continues to believe the Forest Service should not change the current regulations to reduce public access, with 49% strongly feeling this way.  Perhaps most stunning is the fact that a majority (52%) of self-described environmentalists oppose these proposed changes. 

Local residents are also concerned about the effect of new Forest Plans on local economies. When faced with a choice of placing an emphasis protecting wildlife and preserving our forests in their pristine state versus an emphasis on protecting jobs and helping America become more energy independent, voters have a slight preference toward emphasizing jobs (47% vs 45%). However, an overwhelming majority (80%) oppose making changes that could negatively affect small towns that rely on hunting, fishing and tourism for their local economy. And a clear majority (62%) are opposed to the Clinton era "Roadless rule" if it means the loss of good-paying jobs.

"Residents know that protection of natural resources and use of those resources are not mutually exclusive," Hawthorne said. "Recreation, including vehicle assisted recreation is an important "leg of the economic chair" for these local economies," he added. Hawthorne noted that according to a recent Economic Impact Study commissioned by Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, the OHV industry is worth nearly half a billion dollars to Colorado.

Local recreational groups were delighted at the results. "The BlueRibbon Poll simply confirms what most people from this area already know. Whether we snowmobile, trail ride, or hike, Western Colorado is a land that relies on having access to our public lands.  I think this poll sends a strong message that inaccessible Roadless areas and Wilderness areas are not popular with people in Western Colorado," said John Martin, a small business owner and avid motorized recreation enthusiast.

Martin has owned a business in Mesa County for 26 years and has seen the importance of access to National Forests to the local economy. Martin said; "Access to public lands, whether for recreation or business related is the foundation of our economy. There has been a good balance between providing for jobs and protecting the environment. Western Colorado has benefited from that balance and our communities would suffer if the environmental groups succeed in closing vast areas."

 "This survey confirms our belief that some 'environmental special interest groups' are way outside the mainstream with proposals limiting public access," said Dennis Larratt, Chair of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition. "This is a call to action for the thousands and thousands of snowmobilers, ATV riders, trail riders, elderly, and sportsman. With the roadless task force getting ready to determine roadless areas in Colorado, the time to get involved in your public lands is now."

To view Key Findings from the Poll click the link below.


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