Majority of Americans Want More Wilderness

WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - More than six in 10 Americans do not believe enough wilderness has been protected for future generations, according to a new poll by Zogby International.

The poll, conducted for the Campaign for America's Wilderness, shows strong support for increased wilderness protection across political parties, regions, age groups, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

More than two-thirds of respondents - 71 percent - believe that 10 percent or more of all lands in the United States should be protected as wilderness. When told that in fact only 4.7 percent of the land in the U.S. has been permanently protected, almost two-thirds feel that is "not enough."

A majority of Republicans - 51 percent - said that 4.7 percent is not enough wilderness, as did 70 percent of Independents and 72 percent of Democrats.

"The American people want to see more land preserved as wilderness, and regardless of party or region of the country, they feel very strongly about this," said John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International.

The new survey was released as the Bush administration increases pressure to open much of the country's remaining unprotected wildlands to energy exploration. Last week, the Interior Department issued a draft proposal for widespread oil and gas leasing in the northwest part of the nation's largest remaining block of unprotected public land: the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or Western Arctic Reserve. Leasing this entire area, home to some of America's most unique wildlife and wildlands, would be the largest single onshore offering to industry in the nation's history.

Tens of millions of acres of wildlands across the western states, including Alaska, are at risk from another Bush directive: a rule allowing an archaic mining law to grant private "rights of way" across public wildlands, permitting the bulldozing of a network of roads and highways through now pristine public lands including national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.

"Support for permanent protection for wilderness has never been higher," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, a national initiative to protect the nation's remaining wildlands. "People from all walks of life, from every region of the country, across political and ethnic lines value the solitude and recreational opportunities that wilderness provides. As Americans deal with the threat of terrorism, an impending war, and a troubled economy, our special wild places are clearly more important to us than ever."

The poll of 1,001 likely voters chosen at random nationwide, was conducted January 4-6 as part of a larger poll by Zogby International. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percent.

The new Zogby numbers are consistent with polling about wilderness issues over the last four years, as compiled by the Campaign for America's Wilderness and released in a report titled "A Mandate to Protect America's Wilderness," available at: http://www.leaveitwild.org

The review, the first of its kind, includes all recent major public opinion findings on wilderness issues by polling firms, the media, and the U.S. Government's National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service.

"The administration and Congress must recognize that support for wilderness is strong and deep," said Matz. "Congress can protect millions of acres of wilderness in states like California, Idaho, Alaska, and Utah, and they can be confident that this is exactly what their constituents want."