– By Kate Stewart (202-822-6090), Belden Russonello & Stewart and Jeff McCord (540-364-4769), McCord & Associates
A Survey of Public Attitudes Toward Forests of Northern New England found that Northern New Englanders are five times (65 percent) more likely to worry about protection of natural habitats than the region’s supply of timber (12 percent) when they think about forests and forest protection in northern New England.
This is one key finding of an in-depth look at the attitudes of New Englanders toward the forests of northern New England (NE). The opinion survey and analysis was conducted jointly by a bi-partisan team of pollsters, Belden Russonello & Stewart (BRS) and Research/Strategy/Management (RSM), in July 2002. The study — comprised of interviews of 1,257 residents from Connecticut to Maine — was sponsored by the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, a Boston-based nonpartisan organization concerned with forest stewardship, with input from other foundations and conservation groups throughout New England. The survey consisted of 902 residents of northern New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire) and 355 residents of southern New England (Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts).
Whether they live in northern or southern New England, a clear majority value the forests of northern New England and wish to preserve them as wilderness and for the least invasive recreational and limited economic uses.
Except where otherwise noted, percentages reported herein represent the views of northern New Englanders. Their attitudes are generally consistent with the attitudes of southern New Englanders. (See accompanying charts on the internet site cited at the end of this article for a complete breakdown by state.)
“Northern New England residents recognize forests are an important economic resource and just as many believe it is very important to preserve natural habitats and forest areas for recreation,” explained Kate Stewart of BRS who coordinated the research with RSM. “We also found forests are valued as places of respite.”
Ninety-three percent of northern New Englanders (72 percent strongly) recognize the economic importance of forests and 97 percent also view forests as “relaxing” (81 percent strongly), and “quiet and calming” (78 percent strongly).
Recreation Favored Over Logging; Snowmobiling a Low Priority. “The research indicates New Englanders wish to preserve their forests in a natural state for all generations of people to enjoy, both today and tomorrow,” Ms. Stewart continued. “Large majorities place a great deal of personal importance on being able to hike, fish and otherwise use forests without motorized vehicles or logging interfering with their enjoyment.
Indeed, seven in ten place a great deal of importance on having places for recreation that are off limits to motorized vehicles and logging” (69 percent very important; 24 percent somewhat important). Thirty percent of northern New Englanders place a great deal of importance on logging in the forests of northern NE and only 23 percent of northern NE residents, and 13 percent of southern NE residents, place a great deal of importance on snowmobiling in these forests. The most popular recreational uses for these forests among northern NE residents are hiking (64 percent), fishing (59 percent), canoeing (54 percent), hunting and trapping (38 percent), cross country skiing (43 percent), and downhill skiing (33 percent).
Maine residents view logging slightly more favorably than others, and Mainers and Vermont residents place more emphasis on hunting and trapping. Maine residents more so than others recognize forests as an important economic issue.
Other specific survey findings include:
1.) New Englanders clearly want to limit development within and around forests: 78 percent of northern NE residents favor (51 percent strongly); “limiting the amount of residential and commercial development in areas in and close by the forests.” (79 percent of southern NE residents favor; 52 percent strongly); 83 percent of northern NE residents favor (57 percent strongly) “tax credits to encourage private landowners not to sell their land to developers.” (80 percent of southern NE residents favor; 59 percent strongly)
2. ) A large majority wants areas within forests to remain “natural and wild:” 86 percent of northern NE residents support (63 percent strongly) “allowing recreational uses such as hiking, fishing, and snowmobiling only in certain areas of the forest” with remaining sections protected in a “natural and wild” state. (88 percent of southern NE residents favor; 66 percent strongly)
3.) A majority of residents believes as much as 20 percent of the forests of northern New England should be designated wilderness, and a majority of New Englanders favor using tax dollars to preserve forests: 75 percent of northern NE residents support (47 percent strongly) “government using tax dollars to buy forest areas to preserve them from logging and development and use them for recreation.” (82 percent of southern NE residents favor; 57 percent strongly) 59 percent of northern NE residents support (21 percent strongly) “government using tax dollars to buy forest areas to preserve them from development but still allow logging.” (48 percent of southern NE residents support; 16 percent strongly)
4.) New Englanders oppose using tax dollars to help logging companies remain profitable: 52 percent of northern NE residents oppose and 43 percent favor “having government use tax dollars to help timber and logging companies remain profitable and continue to log in New England.” (among southern NE residents, 59 percent oppose and 35 percent favor)
A more detailed Overview of Findings of the survey may be found on-line at WWW.BRSPOLL.COM
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.