SALT LAKE CITY — Utah residents want their children to spend more time outdoors, do not favor selling off public lands to balance budgets and believe inadequate water supply is a serious problem that needs a solution, according to a new poll measuring attitudes in the West.
The new, bipartisan survey, called the 2013 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll, tapped 2,400 residents in six Western states: Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Montana.
While two-thirds of Utahns surveyed identified themselves as "conservationists" and the majority said they engage in outdoor recreation regularly, even more of them worry children do not get outdoors enough.
In Utah, 83 percent of those who participated in the poll said it was a "serious" problem that children are not spending enough time outside.
Amber Kent, a Farmington mother of four, said it can be a challenge to get some her children to go outside on a daily basis, but she and her husband make it a priority.
"Outside activity is very important, but some children are just happy sitting and reading a book. With my 5-year-old son, if he doesn't play outside during the day, he is really moody."
The Kents made a decision to have just basic television channels. No cable. No satellite dish. While their children may be able to play video games, Amber Kent said the time is strictly limited and then out they go.
"We still kick them outside, even if it is snowing," she said. "We tell them to build a snow cave or go sledding in the backyard. After that if they're cold, they can have some hot chocolate to warm up. I think there needs to be a balance."
Dave Livermore, Utah state director of The Nature Conservancy, said that as society becomes more wired, people — and especially kids — tend to get more disconnected from their natural surroundings, and it can have impacts on physical health as well as mental well-being.
"We share the concerns that the poll revealed," he said. "Young people more and more are spending their time indoors looking at computer and television screens."
The Nature Conservancy has worked to connect Utah children with the Great Salt Lake through its Wings & Water program, which was expanded last year through a partnership with the Utah State Botanical Center.
First established in 2005, the program has reached 9,000 fourth-graders via educational field trips to the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve in Layton. The organization hopes that an additional 600 children will fill the tour slots by the end of this school year.
"The wetlands are significant natural areas in North America that are right in our back yard," Livermore said. "These children, many of them, are able to see for the first time things they didn't even know existed.
Views on energy
The conservation poll was released Thursday and detailed in a teleconference. It also found that in Utah, residents want the state to encourage the use of wind and solar power as well as natural gas, rather than coal or nuclear power. Across the board in all states surveyed, renewable energy dominated as the option states should pursue.
Concerns over Western water supply were also probed in the poll, with 74 percent of Utahns calling the problem serious, and one in three agreeing it is "extremely" serious.
Like their neighbors in other states, Utahns place a strong value on public lands, saying they are “essential” to the state’s economy and quality of life. The poll found that 77 percent of those surveyed agreed that national parks and wildlife areas attract high quality employers and good jobs.
“Westerners see the permanent protection of their public lands as an economic imperative, and essential to their quality of life,” said Colorado College economist and State of the Rockies Project faculty director Walt Hecox.
Overall poll results for the six states reveal:
• 79 percent believe public lands support their state's economy and enhance their overall quality of life.
• 74 percent believe national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas help attract high quality employers and good jobs to their state.
• 71 percent believe selling off public lands to corporations for development will hurt their economy and quality of life.
• 52 percent perceive public lands to be a job creator in their state.
One surprising revelation to emerge from the poll, according to Hecox, is that drilling on public lands is largely an unknown fact to the majority of residents in the six Western states.
The survey details how, overall, only 34 percent of those interviewed knew with any certainty that oil and gas drilling occurs on public lands. Respondents said there should be a "balanced" approach to energy development, with 56 percent saying that environmentally sensitive lands should receive permanent protections.
On the subject of climate change, the poll showed Utah residents have sharply divided opinions. The survey asked if there was total agreement or total disagreement with the notion that climate change plays at least some part in the increasing number of extreme weather events such as drought, wildfires and hurricanes.
While 54 percent of Utahns polled agreed with the statement, 43 percent totally disagreed.