Messaging on Public Lands

The following data is derived from the September 2014 and 2015 Public Opinion Strategies/FM3 polls, which is featured below the messaging. Please visit the “states” page  for detailed information on specific states.

Message theme: Voters want to protect and conserve public lands for future generations.

All Americans should share the responsibility to maintain and conserve these lands to ensure our children and grandchildren can enjoy these places as we do today.

  • When asked how important certain priorities for public lands are to voters, protecting and conserving natural areas for future generations topped the list with an overwhelming 96 percent saying it is important and 82 percent saying it is very important.
  • Reminding voters of why we protected public lands in the first place resonates with conservative voters. For example, the West continues to grow at a rapid pace. In the next ten years, it is projected to be the fastest growing region in the country, adding more than two and a half million new residents in 10 years alone, which will lead to more development and more loss of natural areas. Ensuring that we continue to protect some of our most beautiful places that enhance our quality of life and continue our outdoor traditions is important for our future. 

Message theme: Public lands are overwhelmingly popular and viewed as American places that belong to everyone in the nation.

One of the best functions agencies like the U.S. Department of the Interior perform is protecting the natural beauty and national history through our shared public lands. These are American places ‐ not just state places. We all should share the responsibility to maintain and conserve these lands and ensure our children and grandchildren can enjoy these places as we do today.

  • More than two-thirds of Western voters (68 percent) think of public lands as American places that belong to the country as a whole, while 24 percent say these lands belong to the people of their respective state.
  • A majority of those who consider themselves to be supporters of the Tea Party movement believe that these lands ought to be considered American places belonging to all, rather than as places belonging to the state in which they are located.
  • Voters have positive views (70+ percent) of the job U.S. government agencies, like the Fish and Wildlife, National Park and Forest Services are doing in their states. However, they disapprove of the federal government overall (68 percent), so it is important to mention the specific agency.
  • A majority of voters (52 percent) oppose having state government assume control and cost of managing public lands. This holds true across all political and ideological spectrums, excluding conservative Republicans, who support the proposal to transfer public lands by 54 percent. Because supermajorities of voters believe these are America’s lands, it is much better to frame the debate in terms of whom they belong to, rather than as a specific policy proposal.

Message theme: Voters are fearful that transferring public lands to the states will be cost prohibitive for their state.

Every state is required to balance their budget. Taking over management of millions of acres of public lands would be cost prohibitive for Western states, raising the tax burden on state citizens. One wildfire could cost more than $100 million to fight.

  • Seventy-two percent of voters in the West say the lack of resources to properly maintain and care for public lands is a serious problem, with 33 percent saying this is an extremely or very serious problem.
  • It is important to note that most voters do not initially perceive any negative impact to jobs and revenue from tourism or the opportunities to hunt, fish, hike, and enjoy outdoor recreation if the lands were given to the state – except on their taxes, where 65 percent say it would negatively affect the amount they pay in state taxes. However, sportsmen and women and outdoor recreation businesses and groups do perceive a loss of access and income.
  • The Federal government spends $3.5 billion per year just to fight wildfires. States would have to take on this responsibility if they took control of federal lands. In Montana and Idaho, the federal government spends over twice as much combating wildfires as those states do on their state law enforcement.
  • States would lose tens of millions of dollars a year in Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILTs. In addition, in Utah the immediate impact would be the loss of approx. $149.8 million in federal payroll, as well as a loss in contribution to Utah’s gross state product of almost $200 million (Utah Public Lands Policy Coordination Office). Arizona’s Governor Brewer stated in her veto of a public lands bill that the cost to Arizona of owning federal lands would be at least $1m/acre/year.
  • Ranchers could pay over 10 times more for grazing rights. In 2014 the federal grazing rate was $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and $1.35 per head month for Forest Service lands. The rates have been stable for years. There are 18,000 grazing permits and leases on BLM land and 8,000 permits on Forest Service lands. State grazing rates in Montana, for example, are $11.41/AUM plus competitive bidding, and private grazing rates are $20-30/AUM and higher.

Message theme: Federal lands bring economic gains to states. 

  • Both indirect and direct jobs.
  • Outdoor recreation spending is mostly on public lands.
  • Growth, incomes, tax revenues are higher near federally protected lands.
  • Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILTS) would disappear.

Message theme: States taking over public lands would be environmentally destructive. 

  • Watersheds, water, air and land quality and natural systems would suffer.
  • State lands have much more development and less healthy natural systems.
  • Only 21% Western voters trust environment would be protected on state lands.

Message theme: States taking over public lands is unconstitutional on State and Federal levels. 

  • Every Western state Enabling Act or Constitution forever disclaims any rights to federal public lands within their borders.
  • U.S. Constitution Property Clause gives federal government supremacy.

Message theme: Federal public lands belong to all Americans, not just Western state citizens. 

  • Sixty-eight percent of Western voters agree.

Message theme: States taking over public lands historically leads to sales to private interests.