A national US poll asked 861 registered voters, “How would you rather see $2 billion of the surplus spent – to buy and protect wildlands and other natural places or increase military defence spending?” The poll showed that respondents solidly favour environmental protection over defence spending, by a ratio of 50 percent to 34 percent.

A Sierra Club report accompanying the poll examined grassroots efforts to protect both America’s national landscapes and neighbourhood “wildlands.” The report, SPARE America’s Wildlands: The Sierra Club Plan to Protect Our National and Neighborhood Wild Places and Open Spaces, examines six wilderness areas – the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Northern Rockies, the Maine Woods, the Everglades, Utah’s Wilderness and Sequoia National Forest – along with a threatened “wildland” in each state. The report proposes an aggressive program to protect these national and local areas, identified by the acronym “SPARE”: Smart growth; Preservation; Acquisition; Restoration; Ending commercial logging in National Forests.

In a March national survey of 1000 voters, released on April 13, more than three-quarters of those polled said they support the bi-partisan, billion-dollar Lands Legacy initiative to protect America’s natural and historic sites, farmlands and urban parks. In addition to its 78-percent overall support, at least two-thirds of voters in every demographic subgroup favoured the bill.

“After nearly two decades of playing defence, Americans are supporting a more ambitious, pro-active wilderness agenda,” said Sierra Club President Chuck McGrady. “On both the national and neighbourhood levels, Americans have joined together in this wilderness revival movement to save the places they love.”

As further examples of a resurgence in interest and effort to protect wildlands, McGrady pointed to the growing number of citizens’ wilderness inventories and to the more than 150 land acquisition, green-space conservation and anti-sprawl initiatives that voters across America approved last November.

“Americans’ urge to conserve our wildlands is being driven by the increasing number and intensity of threats facing the environment. The problem of suburban sprawl has helped awaken Americans to their love of wild places and wild things; as forests and farmland, meadows and marshes are being paved over in their own backyards the threats have become visceral, personal and inescapable for people,” McGrady said. “In addition to sprawl, add development, pollution, off-road vehicles are all adding to the historic threats and environmental pressures of logging, mining, oil and gas drilling and overgrazing. As threats have increased, so has Americans’ desire to protect the environment.”

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