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New Ad Campaign Aims To Persuade Pols Conservation Matters

Chad K
Flickr-Creative Commons
A view from the popular Indian Peaks wilderness area, outside Boulder.

Western voters have said they care about conservation and protection of public lands.

Now, an advertising campaign by the Denver-based group Center for Western Priorities aims to persuade elected officials – and those up for election – that land and water conservation is an issue that could affect their candidacy.

"I think a lot of candidates and politicians don't realize necessarily how important land conservation is to Western voters," said Greg Zimmerman, the Center's policy director.

Founded in September 2012, the Center for Western Priorities says it is a nonpartisan, nonprofit source for accurate information on protecting land, water, and communities in the American West.

To sway politicos, the group launched a campaign that includes a $250,000 ad buy in the District of Columbia on two political websites, Politicoand The Washington Post. The ads show a diverse cross section of Westerners enjoying clean creeks and green forests, all saying they vote on conservation issues.

Credit Center for Western Priorities
Ads from the Center for Western Priorities aim to convince politicians that conservation is an important issue for voters.

The campaign will also include outreach events in Colorado and Montana, and a website accompanied with statistics noting that, for example, 69 percent of Western voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports protection for public lands. Much of this data is from Colorado College's Conservation in the West poll, part of the State of the Rockies project.

Politicians in Washington have a lot of power over what lands get protected, and "they need to know what Westerners think, how they feel about their lands," said Zimmerman.

Up until 2014, protections for land had languished in the past five Congresses. Historically, Congress had passed some legislation protecting new wilderness almost every year. But beginning in 2009, legislators failed each year to designate new wilderness. The 113th Congress broke the streak in March with a wilderness protection in Michigan, inside a national park.

But, said Zimmerman, that protection seemed more like an aberration than the beginning of a new flurry of bills protecting land.

"There's still very, very little movement and no indication that there's going to be movement in Congress to pass [land protection] bills in the next year."

If President Obama wants to protect land but can't get Congressional support to pass wilderness protections, he can designate national monuments, like he did recently with the Organ Mountains in New Mexico. But that strategy, like many executive actions, is often divisive, and less comprehensive than Congress passing a bill.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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