Rapid Population Growth in West, South Comes at High Cost to Wildlife

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Census Estimates U.S. Population Nearly 326 Million at Year's End

WASHINGTON— According to population estimates for 2017 released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week, there are nearly 326 million people living in the United States. This is an increase of 2.3 million people from the previous year. Much of the growth is concentrated in western and southern states, where communities and wildlife have felt increasing pressure from drought, severe weather events and unsustainable development.

Utah, which has the highest birth rate in the country, is the third-fastest growing state, behind Idaho and Nevada. The news comes in the midst of the Trump administration’s move to slash federally protected lands in the state, including Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, intensifying threats to biodiversity and habitats created by rapid growth and development.

“Utah’s wildlife and wild places are feeling the pressure of a rapidly growing population at the same time that politicians and corporations are gunning to open the state’s public lands to toxic mining, drilling and fracking,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Runaway growth and development will cost Utah its irreplaceable natural and cultural treasures and incredible biodiversity.

Utah and other states can address population-related problems through improving access to family planning, contraception and reproductive healthcare and integrating comprehensive sex education into schools, in addition to enhancing smart growth policies that protect habitats, save room for species to move, and embrace renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Although Utah’s HER Salt Lake Contraceptive Initiative is a strong program to prevent unintended pregnancy, state law requires abstinence-based sex education and Utah’s senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, have consistently voted for federal bills that would make it harder for women across the country to access contraception and reproductive health care.

“We’ve seen so many attacks on family planning this year, while nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended,” said Feldstein. “Combined with reckless overconsumption and development, America’s population is crowding out wildlife in our few remaining wild places. For the sake of people, wildlife and the planet, we need to start talking about our growing population and how reproductive freedom and sex education are critical to protecting our future.”

The Center's Population and Sustainability program advocates for rights-based, common-sense solutions, including universal access to contraception, reproductive healthcare and family planning services, education and equality for women and girls, and reducing our environmental footprint.

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