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Poll: Desert voters prefer excluding mining

Pollsters debuted a bi-partisan survey on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Act that shows a majority of desert voters reject mining activity on conservation lands and prefer that solar- and wind-energy projects be located on previously disturbed lands not used for agriculture.

The poll was commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts and conducted last month in San Bernardino, Imperial, Kern and other counties with lands included in the forthcoming master plan for California desert land use. Participating pollsters and their organizations – Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates – work principally for Republicans or Democrats (respectively) but come together for apolitical issues, pollster David Metz said in a webinar for journalists on Wednesday.

The poll shows San Bernardino County voters favor excluding mining from sensitive lands 53-30 percent. In Imperial County the ratio is 59-33 percent and in Kern County 51-39 percent.

“It’s a clear statement that residents of the desert want conservation on designated conservation lands,” Sam Goldman, California program director for the Conservation Lands Foundation, said. “The BLM conservation lands should be protected like they are everywhere else in the West.”

Spokesmen for the foundation and mining interests recently expressed apprehension at how the BLM in California will treat mining on otherwise protected lands.

A Lucerne Valley geologist and mine owner sees advantages in leaving public lands open to exploration and mining activities.

“You need large areas to explore because we don’t know where things are. Some discoveries are accidental” and precede a technological application, Don Fife said. “We don’t know where the stuff is or what the next century will bring.”

As for solar- and wind-energy projects, 60 percent of those surveyed said the projects should be sited on already disturbed lands that are unsuitable or not currently being used for agriculture and 24 percent favored desert land that’s undisturbed and in its natural state; 17 percent gave an answer of both, neither, don’t know or not applicable.

While only 25 percent of respondents said they have heard “a little” or “a great deal” about the DRECP, 74 percent said they support the plan when it was briefly described to them. Among the polled voters who have heard of the DRECP, 67 percent strongly or somewhat support it.

“Overall, local voters offer strong support for the DRECP as a strategy for expanding the use of clean, renewable energy while protecting land, water and wildlife,” Lori Weigel of POS wrote in a poll summary.

The poll was conducted June 3 to 10 and has a sampling error of +/-3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.