SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll shows 55 percent of Utah voters believe their communities are growing too quickly and there's not enough planning for growth.
More people — 68 percent — worry about health problems due to smog, and 65 percent worry about threats to current and future water supplies.
Where this might matter to Utah lawmakers is that those same voters don't believe the Legislature is doing enough to protect the state's land, air and water resources — with fewer than a fourth of them giving lawmakers "excellent or good" marks.
Dave Livermore, executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Utah, which commissioned the poll, said while Utah lawmakers have made strides in specific areas such as air pollution, there is a general sense by the public more needs to be done to protect natural resources.
"This is not so much about public lands — that is and always will be a polarizing issue — but what is in our own backyard," Livermore said.
"The results of this poll are really revealing and show some common ground on these resources close to home," he said.
The poll, conducted Feb. 2-11, involved 715 online and live telephone interviews with registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent.
The Nature Conservancy is hoping the poll results gird lawmakers into coughing up more money for the LeRay McCallister Fund, established in 1999 through the Utah Quality Growth Act.
Since its inception, the fund has worked with farmers, ranchers and other private land owners to conserve more than 90,000 acres in Utah through a variety of means such as conservation easements.
Over 100 grants have been issued to the tune of $21 million, money leveraged to bring in nearly $200 million. All projects are supported by local governments, involve only willing sellers and buyers, and maintain private ownership of the land, Livermore said.
"We've spent years working with ranchers and farmers who are some of the best stewards of the land," he said.
Although LeRay McCallister could be fully funded at $6 million, it's never met that mark.
Livermore said legislative appropriations for the fund have dwindled over the years to nearly nothing.
"We're just not doing as well on these issues," he said. While nearly $2 million in funds were awarded in 1999 to conserve land, in 2016 the award was $94,750.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, and Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, have both submitted funding requests totalling $1 million for the LeRay McCallister Fund. They await action by the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee.
"We are grateful to both of those lawmakers. It is a clear case where land and water is not a partisan issue," Livermore said.
Handy said the LeRay McCallister Fund is an effective tool to help protect diminishing open space.10 comments on this story
"These are watersheds, this is helping a farmer preserve his or her longtime family ranch and farm — things that are necessary and needed right in our backyard and communities. The Legislature's commitment to the fund has rather lagged. I am hopeful there is a way to have more of an ongoing commitment."
Livermore said all one has to do is explore communities along the western Wasatch Front to witness the transformation from pastures to pavement.
"With our state facing such growth, it is time we have all hands on deck," Livermore said. "We are losing a lot of farmland to development. It is never going to cost less to protect our critical farmland."