2022 IRRC Public Opinion Poll finds mixed results


The latest IRRC public opinion poll, conducted by Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, showed reduced support for livestock grazing on public lands, a sharp increase in “don’t know” responses, and similar outcomes for other questions about the effect of livestock grazing on public rangelands compared to previous polls.

The poll also had a new recreation section showing greater concern about the impact of increased recreation use on public lands, and hinted at preferred solutions to deal with resource impacts and overcrowding.

A total of 1,048 residents responded to the survey, including 786 web-based responses and 262 phone-based responses. The survey showed representative views of both urban and rural residents, poll officials said.

See the full report on the IRRC Public Opinion Poll.

The initial survey data was compiled in October and November 2021. An additional question was re-surveyed in the summer of 2022, with 616 Idahoans responding.

The re-survey question was, “Do you approve of the use of public lands for livestock grazing?” Seventy-eight percent said yes, 9% said no, and 14% were unsure.

Initially, poll researchers had asked the question a different way: “Do you approve of the use of public lands for livestock production?” The response showed only 61% of the respondents approved of livestock production on public lands. This compared to responses in 2010 and 2014 polls showing 89% and 90% approval of the use of livestock grazing on public lands.

Upon learning about the wording change by the pollsters on this question, the IRRC Board of Directors asked them to re-survey the question so it was consistent with the question asked in previous polls. IRRC staff and board members thought perhaps people were responding to feedlots when asked about “livestock production.”

The re-survey increased the result to 78%, but that still raised questions, seeing that the “Don’t Know” answer went up significantly. Overall, survey respondents were overwhelmingly female (61%), compared to male (36%). In general, the number of “Don’t Know” or “Unsure” answers went up considerably compared to previous polls, indicating that IRRC has more work to do on the education front, which is our primary mission. The poll also found that males were certain about their answers, while females were more uncertain about various topics.

The most common ways survey respondents used sagebrush landscapes was by hiking (62%), camping (53%), and wildlife and bird watching (46%).

Respondents approved most strongly of recreational uses of public lands, with 84% or more approving of hiking, wildlife and bird watching, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, and guided recreation, while logging received the lowest approval rating (45%).

A majority of respondents (51%) stated that the condition of Idaho’s rangelands is “good” or “very good”.

Other results:

  • Most respondents believe that cattle (70%) and sheep (68%) producers manage rangelands in a responsible manner, and 73% of respondents felt that ranches and farms are important to the preservation of wildlife habitat.
  • Seventy-six percent of respondents agreed that livestock grazing should be kept as part of the management of public rangelands.
  • Nearly one half (44%) of respondents felt that wildfire was a “significant” or “severe” problem for Idaho’s rangelands, with an additional 31% stating it was a “moderate” problem.
  • Sixty percent or more of respondents felt that reducing the risk of wildfire to communities, maintaining wildlife habitat, and preventing the spread of invasive species are “high” priorities for making decisions about public rangelands.
  • Respondents frequently believed their personal recreational use of public lands to have “somewhat” to “very” positive impacts on the environment (42%) and to have “neither positive nor negative” impacts on other public lands users (40%).
  • Sixty percent or more of respondents felt that traveling off of designated trails, displacement of wildlife, overcrowding by recreationists, soil and vegetation disturbance, and traveling outside of recreational areas were “moderate” to “very serious” problems related to recreation on public lands.
  • As for solutions to recreation impacts, respondents supported traffic-control solutions (e.g., seasons of use, single-use areas) more strongly than fee-based solutions (e.g., annual use pass, daily access fee). Seasons of use and single-use areas were the most strongly supported, with 73% and 67% of respondents, respectively, supporting those measures “somewhat” or “strongly”. Lottery-based permits were the least supported measure, with 32% of respondents supporting this measure “somewhat” or “strongly.”

In 2021, pollsters asked a new question about how various factors should be prioritized when making decisions about public rangelands.

“Reducing the risk of wildfire to communities” was ranked as a high priority by the highest percentage of respondents (70%), followed by “maintaining wildlife habitat” (66% high priority) and “preventing the spread of invasive species, such as cheatgrass” (60% high priority).

Respondents were split in considering “the economic well-being of local communities” as a high priority (44%) or a medium priority (42%).

“Recreational opportunities and access” received the lowest priority ranking overall, with 31% of respondents considering this a high priority and 47% a medium priority in decision-making about public rangelands.

Conclusion: The most important findings from this study indicate that Idahoans use and derive economic benefits from these landscapes in a multitude of ways, believe livestock grazing should be kept as part of public rangelands management, and view the maintenance of wildlife habitat and prevention of wildfires to be high priorities for Idaho’s rangelands. A majority of respondents believe that cattle and sheep producers manage rangelands in a responsible manner and that Idaho’s rangelands are in “fair” to “good” condition.

IRRC Board members and staff also assume that the large influx of new people moving into Idaho from out of state over the last 5 to 10 years may have led to an increase in “don’t know” responses.