Voters Prioritize Water Protection and Recreation for Public Lands in the Pacific Northwest


new poll reveals voters’ priorities for the management of a 25-million-acre network of America’s public lands, forests and rivers in Northern California, western Oregon, and western Washington.

The Northwest Forest Plan is the science-based agreement that was struck to manage federal public lands, waters and old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Survey respondents overwhelmingly support public land management that prioritizes clean drinking water, water quality, and water supply protection, along with recreation and habitat protection for wildlife.

“The public lands in the Pacific Northwest contain most of the remaining ancient forests in the continental United States,” said Denis HayesPresident of the Bullitt Foundation. “And these forests bring many benefits to the land and the people living nearby. Forests help regulate our climate, prevent erosion and act as water filters that collect and store water. These forests recharge underground aquifers that ultimately serve as drinking water, but they also contain vast biodiversity, greater than most other ecosystems on earth.”

The Northwest Forest Plan will be revised by the next presidential administration, so right now the results of the survey are particularly relevant. The public and our land management agencies must decide on the best course of action for providing cohesive protection for these crucial forests, and the drinking water supplies they provide.

“Most everyone knows that water is essential for life to exist,” said Lisa Grove, partner with Anzalone, Liszt, and Grove Research, who conducted the poll. “So it comes as no surprise that voters in the Pacific Northwest are telling us that protecting these sources of clean drinking water is very important to the quality of their lives. In fact, along with recreation and the protection of old-growth forests, water-related benefits are three of the top five values for which residents of the Pacific Northwest value their public lands. Voters put clean water and recreation as a much higher priority than extraction-based industries and the jobs they provide. They demand protection of this very basic and extremely valuable resource.  It’s a no-brainer to most.”

The telephone survey interviewed 600 registered voters in Washington, Oregon and California counties that fall within the Northwest Forest Plan region. Eighty-one percent of surveyed voters said protecting forests that are the sources of clean drinking water should be a top priority. In terms of new provisions for the Northwest Forest Plan, proposals that enhance recreation and restoration, protect water quality and old-growth forests were the most popular among those surveyed.

 Protecting water quality is a priority among voters in the Pacific Northwest:

  • 78% of the voters surveyed prioritized protecting and restoring the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams.
  • 69% of the voters surveyed ranked working to reduce water shortages and the impacts of drought as a high priority.
  • 66% of the voters surveyed prioritized protecting wild salmon runs.

“These are critical lands and watersheds,” said Pamela Brulotteowner of Icicle Brewing Company in Leavenworth, WA.  “Our business depends on clean drinking water, and you can’t have that without healthy forests,” said Brulotte.  The water for their craft beer comes from Icicle Creek, which flows into the Wenatchee River less than a mile from the brewery.

Public lands are crucial to the growing recreation economy across the region. 

  • 73% of those polled also prioritized improving trails and campgrounds to enhance recreation opportunities.
  • Per a 2015 study commissioned by the state of Washington, outdoor recreation accounts for $21.6 billion in annual expenditures in the state.
  • In Oregon, outdoor recreation accounts for over $12 billion in consumer spending, and over 141,000 direct jobs.
  • The Forest Service conservatively estimates more than 20 million people visit national forests in the Pacific Northwest each year.

For Harvey Young, the owner of Fishawk River Company on the southern Oregon Coast, protecting these forests and public lands is essential to his livelihood. Towering trees and healthy rivers have sustained Young’s business. The national forests in the region provide habitat for native fish runs and recreation opportunities that help his small business to thrive.

“The forests of my river basin are essential to my livelihood,” said Young. “Well-managed forests are a boon for local economies because they produce clean drinking water, sustain local jobs and create a high quality of life. Protecting these forests is crucial for my family and community’s health and prosperity.”

Strong support for Northwest Forest Plan

The poll highlights the growing need for elected officials, county leaders, and our federal land management agencies to work together in a coordinated, consistent way to protect the federal forest lands and waterways across the greater region covered by the Northwest Forest Plan. The goal of these protections is to ensure access to clean drinking water, opportunities for recreation, and the traditional forest pastimes for local communities, recreationists, and future generations.

Megan Birzell, Northwest Forests Campaign Manager, The Wilderness Society,206-348-3597
Joseph Vaile, Executive Director, KS Wild, 541-488-5789
Susan Jane M. Brown, Staff Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-680-5513

Additional Resources:
Click here to view maps and infographics.


** The findings are based on a poll of 600 registered voters in counties throughout Washington, Oregon and California July 5-10, 2016 and the sample has a margin of error of ± 4 percent. The poll was commissioned by The Wilderness Society.

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