There is good news for New Mexicans who may be feeling like the last kid picked for the team during this economic turnaround.
In the recent Conservation in the West Poll of voters in eight Mountain West states, New Mexico voters expressed economic angst far higher than their neighbors in the region around issues like low wages, unemployment and slow growth.
Amid the economic uncertainty, there is a bright spot. An overwhelming majority in New Mexico — 84 percent — believe the outdoor economy is important to the economic future of their state. In fact, a majority say that this segment of the economy — which was defined as not only people coming to hunt, fish, camp and recreate in the state, but also those who manufacture and sell equipment for those activities — is “very important.”
Their optimism is likely rooted in personal experience: 76 percent of New Mexicans view themselves as “outdoor recreation enthusiasts,” and 73 percent label themselves as “conservationists.” In addition, 70 percent of voters — more than in any other Western state — want the state’s elected leaders to ensure opportunities for New Mexicans to enjoy the outdoors. Economic figures seem to support the perceptions of state residents.
The national Bureau of Economic Analysis recently put the amount of economic activity generated by the outdoor recreation industry at $412 billion. The outdoor recreation economy is growing at a faster pace than the entire U.S. economy.
To create the conditions necessary on public lands for a thriving outdoor economy, New Mexicans are willing to put money behind their values. There is strong majority support for state efforts to conserve land, water and wildlife, and to support outdoor activities like hiking, camping and fishing. Perhaps the ultimate sign of support, 73 percent of New Mexicans say they would support an increase in local taxes to fund those types of projects. This solid level of support comes despite the very real economic concerns shared by a majority of New Mexicans.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that people in the Land of Enchantment were decidedly disenchanted with federal actions over the past two years that threaten the rising outdoor recreation economy. Strong majorities label recent efforts to remove national monument protections from Western lands, eliminate clean water protections and reduce public comment for public lands decisions, including those for oil and gas development, as “bad changes.”
All of these research findings indicate that New Mexicans are likely to embrace recent state actions to encourage outdoor recreation. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a bipartisan group of legislators just announced plans to establish a state office of outdoor recreation to promote the outdoor recreation economy. The new initiative would provide $1.5 million in funding for the office, with additional grant funding to enable low-income families to enjoy public lands in New Mexico.
From the nine-year history of the poll, we have long known New Mexicans personally value their public lands and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Now we know people in New Mexico see it as bright spot in their economic future.
Lori Weigel is the principal at New Bridge Strategy, an opinion research company with roots in Republican politics specializing in public policy and campaign research. Dave Metz is the principal and president, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a national Democratic opinion research firm specializing in public policy oriented opinion research.