Utah has the nation’s second-fastest rate of urban sprawl gobbling up farmland and open space for new development, according to a new study.
Fast population growth pushing cities outward is the primary reason, rather than people choosing more spacious lots, according to the study by the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation, a sometimes-controversial group that promotes reduced immigration and studies effects of immigration and growth.
It said data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. National Resource Conservation Service shows the amount of developed land covered by urban areas in Utah grew by 17.6 percent between 2002 and 2010.
That was the second biggest percentage increase among the 48 contiguous states, behind only Nevada’s 18.7 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota had the slowest urban sprawl, growing at just 1.3 percent.
The study, released just before Earth Day, said urban sprawl in Utah cities consumed 203 square miles in the period.
In that time, more than 13,000 square miles of farmland and natural habitat nationwide “succumbed to the bulldozer’s blade. That is an area larger than the entire state of Maryland — cleared, scraped, filled, paved and built over — in less than a decade,” the report said.
The NumbersUSA study also included data for Utah’s five major urban areas.
It said between 2002 and 2008, sprawl consumed 84 square miles in the Provo-Orem urban area, 47.2 square miles in Salt Lake City-West Valley City, 37.5 in Ogden-Layton, 11.3 in St. George and 5.6 in Logan.
It also ranked those areas for their overall sprawl among 497 urbanized areas nationally, with lower numbers meaning they have more sprawl. Provo-Orem ranked No. 42; Salt Lake City-West Valley City was No. 80; Ogden-Layton, 93; St. George, 255; and Logan, 347.
That NumbersUSA study comes after the Utah Foundation in a separate study earlier this week said Utah’s population could double by 2050, adding another 2.5 million people to its current 2.9 million population.
Counties and cities along the Wasatch Front have formed a group, Wasatch Choices for 2040, that has looked at ways to handle that growth. It is promoting clustering much of the new growth in higher-density town centers around mass-transit stops, which may decrease sprawl, driving, traffic congestion, air pollution and water use.
NumbersUSA said most sprawl nationally is coming from population growth, including from immigration, “yet there is little sign that the nation is ready to substantially change this population trend — or even to discuss it much.”
NumbersUSA has sometimes been controversial. The Southern Poverty Law Center has attacked it as part of a “nativist” lobby with ties to a founder interested in eugenics, racial quotas and white nationalism. The group, however, insists it holds no racist or extremist views.