Survey: Westerners don’t want state control of public lands

Only Utah shows majority in favor of states getting hold of U.S. public lands-

A public opinion poll of 200 people in each of the eight Intermountain western states has shown a majority (52 to 42 %) are against transferring the federal lands to the Western states.  In total, 1600 were interviewed.

A slight majority of Utahans (52%) did favor state ownership, while among the rest a plurality of Wyoming residents favored the proposed transfer of over 300-hundred million acres of U.S. public land. Strongest support for keeping the lands national was in Montana (61%).

To minimize the likelihood of charges of partisan bias, the survey was done jointly by a Republican and a Democrat polling firm — Public Opinion Strategies and FM3.

In issue polls it’s important to look at not just the gross split of opinion, but also to the relative numbers who feel strongly. Those who strongly opposed the land transfer idea outweighed those who strongly favored by about 2:1

The land transfer plan has become strongly associated with the Republican Party. The GOP has made it part of their platform in a number of states. Surprisingly, partisan/ideological outlook did not make much of a difference. Only conservative Republicans showed a majority in favor of public land transfer to the states.

These results are not much different than related polls conducted in recent years. Utah is the state most closely associated with the transfer proposal, yet a survey of Utah Republican caucus attendees showed support for this is not broad based — not one of the priority issues for a majority of attendees. This is a priority of rural Republican elites.








  1. Ryan Simmons Avatar
    Ryan Simmons

    As a long time citizen of Utah, I am opposed to State ownership of our public lands. Nothing scares me more down here than that thought.
    Since the 1980’s I’ve seen the area in and around the San Rafael Swell and Moab/Arches region become decimated by misguided ‘management’ and small town mindsets. There was once a time one could venture to beautiful Gemini Bridges from above in peace and quiet. Now the area is full of oil platforms, No Trespassing and Deadly Force Used signage (for public lands leased by those oil companies), trash and rednecks in big, dumb trucks racing along old and newly established dirt roads frequented by visitors.
    Utah has a lot to offer. Commonsense and progressive politics is not one of those.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Ryan Simmons,

      Yes. Despite a veneer of moralism, I’d say Utah’s political culture is very mercenary, and natural values are not valued at all among its political elite.

  2. patrick Avatar

    I certainly would not want the Idaho State government to take over management of U.S. Public lands. That would turn management over to hunters (including trophy hunters), trappers and Hunting Guide Companies. That would be a terrible disaster.

  3. Yvette Avatar

    Maybe they will back off a bit now…..nah, they won’t. But at least the majority of the people don’t want it.

    That is a sad sounding situation you describe in Utah.

    1. JB Avatar

      Whether they pursue the issue really depends on how it plays with the Republican base in each district. One of the big problems in Utah is that there is no viable second party. Single-party rule leads to corruption, nepotism and unresponsive government.

  4. Nancy Avatar

    Heard just a quick blip on the radio news yesterday about a rally being held this weekend in Helena against the state taking control of public lands.

    More on the subject:

  5. snaildarter Avatar

    I love Utah and its five National Parks. I’ve always hoped that the more open minded people who are attracted to its natural areas would someday become the majority. There are a few encouraging signs there. We can only hope things will get better.

    1. skyrim Avatar

      Sorry snaildarter, but I wish I shared your “encouraging signs”.
      As a long time resident in the state I see things much differently.
      I own property in Salt Lake, Sanpete and Washington counties.
      In Washington ORVs and access to lands to tear up makes the rules. In Sanpete it’s Sheep and access to lands for them to graze and leave their crap and stink on. In Salt Lake it’s commerce and shitty politics that make the rules with elected officials doing all of the above.
      I’ll not live long enough to see any significant change in my home state.

  6. snaildarter Avatar

    I agree the bad guys are certainly still in control but their majority seems a little slimmer. Now that Salt Lake City has a secular majority maybe more open minded people will move there. It could tip the balance someday. We can always hope it is such a beautiful State seems a shame to waste it on the current majority.

  7. snaildarter Avatar

    However my plan is to leave Georgia soon and move to Montana. Personally I think moving to Utah would be from the frying pan to the fire.

    1. Yvette Avatar

      That’s funny snaildarter. I’ve traveled through Utah so many times over the years and I do not like it. I think it’s mostly the Salt Lake/Provo area that I dislike. On one trip, me, my daughter (when she was still a kid), a niece and my elderly dad had some vehicle problems on a two lane mountain road near a town called Helper City. It turned into a long and weird story, (quite eerie and my fullblood Native American dad thought there was some weird energy going on) but… odd turn of events and a used tire guy in that town went above and beyond to help us out. I have not a single bad word about that little Utah town. Completely changed my attitude about Utah. Dang, I have lots of road stories, but I guess this isn’t the right blog for them, LOL.

      Where in Montana will you live? I’ve lived on the Northern Cheyenne reservation and one summer in Missoula. I love Missoula! Polson is a decent place, too. At least, I liked it there.

      1. W. Hong Avatar
        W. Hong

        I thought the Norther Cheyenne was in eastern Montana, I just visited the bison place on the Flathead reservation north of Missoula and visited Polson.

        1. Yvette Avatar

          Yes, Northern Cheyenne rez is in eastern MT.

          So how did you like Salish & Kootenai’s area? Flathead Lake is a wonderful area. University of Montana’s Biological Station is on the Flathead Lake, too.

          1. W. Hong Avatar
            W. Hong

            I had a very nice time and learned a lot about the area and the people, it was a fun time, I look forwad to going back again.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Rally for public lands gathers in heavy rain in Montana.

    It is becoming a major election issue in Montana.

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      I hope all the friends of wolves out there click on the link that Louise posted…The voting is still open. My guess is that the editors of the Powell,WY newspaper are highly disappointed in how the vote is going.

  9. skyrim Avatar

    Generally, these polls mean very little in the scheme of things. Additionally the anti folks in Wyoming could care less what polls may show. Wyoming politicians may pay attention if 80 percent of their mail was favorable for federal protection. but only if same mail included huge checks for their re-election campaigns.

  10. Lisa LeBlanc Avatar
    Lisa LeBlanc

    So late to the party…

    I have to say both the poll and the comment responses here are pleasing. If judged only by mainstream media reports, Landlubbers account for a puny minority because the REAL stewards of Public Lands are those fellas who can squish a buck out of it.

    State’s management of wide open spaces would be decidedly bad juju. Most land use plans already have top-heavy support from those who profit from those uses in answer to Federal assessments. If administration falls to the state powers, it will definitely be administered by the “It’s Not What Ya Know, But Who” system of land management.

    In my own landlubbin’ heart, I can not understand a mind set that views open space as nothing more than an economic opportunity, particularly here in the West. While Federal management is riddled with issues, states (dare I say it?) simply can’t be trusted to do what’s right – for the land or their constituents.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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