States Are Setting The Bar On Outdoor Recreation And Energy Development
At a time when Westerners are feeling less than confident about the federal government’s commitment to respecting and protecting our outdoor way of life, we are increasingly looking to our state governments to fill the leadership void. Enter the Center for Western Priorities’ Western States Conservation Scorecard, which takes a close look at proactive, state-based conservation policies with a concentration on what Western states are doing well.
While news in recent years has focused on some state lawmakers attacking America’s public lands, we’ve too often lost sight of the proactive, pro-conservation, and pro-public lands policies successfully being passed through Western states. The Western States Conservation Scorecard ranks state policies on public lands access, outdoor recreation, and responsible energy development. It illuminates best practices and gaps in state-level public lands policies to highlight where Western states are demonstrating leadership and where they can improve in the coming years.
Colorado topped the scorecard, ranking as the first or second place state in all three categories and outpacing the other states in the overall score. Montana had the second highest scorecard total and led all states in access to public lands. Nevada landed in the middle of the pack, just behind Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Idaho and Arizona received the lowest rankings among the eight Western states.
Western States Conservation Scorecard
As “laboratories of democracy” states are well-positioned to build the culture and economy that protects and enhances America’s public lands. Western states are already leading the way with effective state policies and regulations often being replicated by other states and the federal government:
Colorado’s successful methane waste rules provided a roadmap for similar rules implemented by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas development — and ensure companies capture natural gas, rather than wasting it away.
Montana’s gold standard stream access law serves as a model for other Western states — it constitutionally declares all rivers in the state public. Boaters and fishermen are free to boat through private lands, wade in streambeds, and walk along waterways on private land all the way up to the high water mark.
After Offices of Outdoor Recreation opened in Utah and Colorado to increase the visibility of a state’s outdoor recreation economy — serving as hubs for planning and advocacy — Montana followed the lead establishing an Office of Outdoor Recreation in 2017.
Colorado passed a first-in-the-nation state Public Lands Day in 2016, which was replicated one-year later by passing the Public Lands Day in Nevada bill.
Wyoming became the first state in 2010 to require disclosure of hydraulic fracking chemicals used during oil and gas drilling. Since then, a number of Western states and the U.S. government have adopted chemical disclosure rules of varying strengths.
No one state does everything perfectly, and not every solution works for every state, but what is clear is that Western states have a lot to offer and learn from one another.