Poll: Americans want feds to restore wetlands

by Leslie Turk

Think there is public fatigue on the issue of coastal restoration? Think again.

A new national poll reveals that 91 percent of Americans believe the federal government should help restore the Gulf Coast. Asked whether they think the Gulf Coast is vital to the nation's economy and domestic energy security and if the U.S. should invest additional funds in restoring the area, 51 percent "strongly agreed" and 40 percent "somewhat agreed," while 6 percent "somewhat disagreed" and 3 percent "strongly disagreed."

The America's WETLAND Foundation commissioned the scientific poll of 1,132 respondents conducted Aug. 10-14 by The Kitchens Group, a Florida-based national market research firm. It has a margin of error of 2.9 percent. The poll focuses on issues critical to sustaining the Gulf Coast region and the health of the Mississippi River.

"We are encouraged by these national poll numbers and feel the expanded scope of the America's WETLAND Foundation, founded nearly 10 years ago to raise public awareness of Louisiana's coastal land loss, may be having a real impact," said R. King Milling of New Orleans, the foundation's chair. "Our mission remains to focus the country's attention on this region that continues to face unprecedented environmental and economic calamity."

Protecting the Gulf Coast area that supplies energy to the country should be the responsibility of the federal government, according to 90 percent of respondents, with only 10 percent saying it is not a federal responsibility.

The poll also showed that 78 percent of respondents support using wetlands to capture and store carbon dioxide, similar to how forests are used to reduce carbon in the air. In contrast, according to the poll, only 22 percent feel climate change is not really a significant problem and do not support capturing carbon for this purpose, regardless of the impact on restoring the ecosystem.

Additionally, the poll shows most Americans believe the federal government should be responsible for restoring and maintaining the environmental health of the Mississippi River, which each year dumps nutrients into the river that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a dead zone that threatens marine life. In 2010, the dead zone covered 8,400 square miles, an area the size of New Jersey.

Poll respondents were divided over national perceptions of the Mississippi River. When asked if they believe most Americans understand that the Mississippi River system, from headwaters to the river's mouth, is vulnerable, half said "yes" and half said "no."

A clear majority 73 percent said it is reasonable to expect that drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and protecting the Gulf Coast environment can happen at the same time, with 30 percent saying it is "definitely possible" and 43% saying "probably possible."

Pollster Jim Kitchens was surprised by some findings. "There are a couple of things that really jump out at me," Kitchens said. "Seven out of 10 believe you can drill and protect the environment, that you can have both. They don't see it as an either-or' choice. Another surprise is that 90 percent of the respondents see restoring and protecting the Gulf Coast to be a responsibility of the Federal government. That is astonishing in this era of worrying about the Federal deficit."

Read the full results of the survey here.