Once-Wild West Disappearing Under Development

Published on May 27th, 2016

But Shhh! Mustn’t Mention that Rampant Population Growth is a Major Reason Why

Subdivisions subdue the once Golden State.

San Jose Mercury News reporter Paul Rogers writes that:

“The natural landscape of the American West is gradually disappearing under a relentless march of new subdivisions, roads, oil and gas production, agricultural operations and other human development.”

Rogers is citing a new report at www.disappearingwest.org posted by Conservation Science Partners, a nongovernmental research group with offices in Truckee, California; Seattle, Washington; Flagstaff, Arizona; Fort Collins, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana. According to Disappearing West, an area of natural habitat the size of a football field is lost to concrete, asphalt, subdivisions, strip malls and drilling pads every two and a half minutes.

In the decade between 2001 and 2011, a combined area of 2.8 million acres (4,321 square miles) – 15 times the combined size of San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco – was developed in the 11 Western states. By far, California lost the most open space of all of them.

Yet there is a gaping hole large enough to drive a bulldozer through in both the Disappearing West website and Rogers’ article about it: the role of human population growth in driving all this development and loss of open space. Various wildlife population sizes are mentioned in the Disappearing West report, but there is not one mention of human population size and growth. Why this glaring omission?

In the graph to the left, which plots population growth of each of the 11 Western states on the horizontal or x-axis, and natural habitat loss on the vertical or y-axis, the upward sloping line illustrates clearly that population growth is correlated with the loss of natural habitat.

In the American West, as in our country as a whole, today’s and tomorrow’s population growth is being driven largely by mass immigration. The Environmental Establishment, now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party in California and the nation, long ago retreated from telling the truth – resorting to self-censorship or mass delusion – about the environmental impact of nonstop, immigration-driven population growth. That’s because it runs counter to the concerted efforts of ruling Democratic elites to pack as many immigrants as they can into the country and right into their party.

The study at Disappearing West is sponsored by the Public Lands team at the Center for American Progress, described by Wikipedia as:

…a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, “dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.”

These days, activists of the so-called “progressive” ilk are all about sham “immigration reform,” which means amnesty for illegal aliens and a huge jump in legal immigration rates to appease and please the billionaire boys like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and those Google guys.

The Disappearing West website asks disingenuously:

“How fast is the United States losing natural areas in the West and – importantly – why?”

Then it proceeds to enumerate the “drivers of change:” urban sprawl, energy, transportation and agriculture/timber. How can an honest report cite urban sprawl as by far the most important of these factors and then totally ignore massive, continuous population growth as a cause of that sprawl? The deceit is breathtaking but, unfortunately, par for the course in the new century for both contemporary environmentalists and liberals.

This wholesale omission of unending, rapid population growth as a source of any environmental ills is so blatant and so consequential that it amounts to a “Big Lie,” i.e., propaganda on the part of environmentalists and liberals.

For a more honest view of the role of population growth in driving urban sprawl and the loss of the nation’s open space, one should turn to a 2014 report by NumbersUSA: Vanishing Open Spaces: Population Growth and Sprawl in America. In full disclosure, I was one of the coauthors of that report.

For the 11 Western states covered on the Disappearing West webpage, Vanishing Open Spaces reported the following:

Sources of Development in 11 Western States, 2002-2010


Total Area Developed
(square miles)
between 2002 & 2010

% of Total Area Developed Related to Growth in POPULATION

% of Total Area Developed
Related to Growth in

























New Mexico




















Total Sprawl




The data used in this table is collected by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and made available to the public in NRCS’ National Resources Inventory (NRI) issued every few years. (The NRI metrics cannot be directly compared to those of the Disappearing West study, which is why the numbers differ.) The methodology used by the NumbersUSA authors and applied to these data to apportion the percentage of development related to population growth and to growth in per capita land consumption (that is, declining population density) is described in the Vanishing Open Spaces report.

Of all the 11 contiguous Western states, only in California was population growth not responsible for all private rural land developed between 1982 and 2010. And even in California, population growth was related to more than 90 percent of sprawl in that eight-year time span.

Scenic California at its best: the Sierra Nevada Range (John Muir’s “Range of Light”) from the Owens Valley, showing horses, pasture, the Alabama Hills and Mt. Whitney, 14,495 ft. elev., highest point in the Sierra, California, and the contiguous 48 United States.

Surely findings such as these should have been relevant to any report purporting to examine the “Why?” of rampant loss of natural areas and open spaces in the West.

As one who moved to the wide open West from the overcrowded, over-polluted East in 1977 – yearning to breathe free of the huddled masses, and as one who reveled in the West’s wild landscapes and big sky – from the expansive deserts and soaring mountain ranges of California to the capacious reaches of New Mexico and the drenched rainforests of Washington’s Cascades – this filling up of the formerly vast voids with manmade objects and throbbing cobwebs of people saddens me beyond words.

I had made a pilgrimage to the West precisely to study natural resources management (obtaining my M.S. at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada) and be part of the movement to conserve the great natural resources of the West, three of which are solitude, silence and open spaces. These singular qualities are now all succumbing to the onslaught of sprawling development wrought by interminable population growth.

And the enviros have their heads stuck in the sand, ignoring or afraid to challenge the main underlying cause of unsustainable population growth, prattling on about the need for good planning and smart growth. They have copped out and sold out.


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