Bi-partisan survey finds majority of Americans value forests

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – A nationwide, bi-partisan poll has revealed agreement among U.S. voters on the value of forestlands.

Commissioned by the National Association of State Foresters, the survey found 92 percent of Americans believe forests play a very important role in keeping the nation’s air clean. Of those, 58 percent rate the benefit as extremely important.

Just one point behind, 91 percent believe forests fill an equally important role in filtering water to keep it clean.

We’re learning

“That suggests an interesting degree of sophistication,” said Bob Atchison, rural forestry coordinator with the Kansas Forest Service.

“Most of us have driven past a line of trees, growing between a crop field and a creek or river. But that didn’t teach us about what trees do to keep crop debris, soil and pesticide runoff out of our water resources.”

The pollsters found solid majorities think other forestland benefits also are very important. The support for those assets led with the following reasons:

• 86 percent: providing a place for wildlife to live.

• 73 percent: providing a source of good-paying jobs.

• 73 percent: supplying products such as wood and paper.

• 71 percent: providing a place for recreation.

• 60 percent: reducing global warming.

Bipartisan pollsters

The NASF created an odd-couple team to conduct its research. The members were a leading Democratic polling firm — Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates of California — and the leading U.S. Republican pollsters with Public Opinion Strategies, headquartered in Alexandria, Va.

“According to the team’s analyses, voters’ appreciation for the economic benefits provided by forests is higher now than it’s been in previous years,” Atchison said. “The respondents also recognize America’s forests are facing a variety of serious threats: wildfires, harmful insects, diseases.

“In fact, seven out of 10 of them support either maintaining or increasing efforts to protect the forests and trees in their state. And, only 4 percent think too much is already being done — despite the states’ and nation’s current economic woes.”

Head to the woods

Perhaps because he’s a Kansan, Atchison was a bit surprised by one survey findings: Most voters are personally familiar with the nation’s forests.

Two-thirds (67 percent) actually live within 10 miles of a forest or wooded area. In descending order, the recreational activities that voters say can take them to forested areas include viewing wildlife, hiking on outdoor trails, fishing, overnight camping, hunting, using off-road vehicles, snow-shoeing or cross-country-skiing, and mountain biking.

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