Toppling monoliths in Mormon Country

  • Greg Hanscom

  • THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, 177660
 

It’s all too easy to stereotype Mormons as conservative, anti-environment and unquestioning of their leaders.

Kudos to those within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are breaking out of that stereotype — those who are proving that there is room within the faith for diversity and debate. As Rosemary Winters writes in this issue’s cover story, a few bold Saints are arguing loudly for taking better care of their homeland in the West. They’re spearheading efforts to restore rivers, protect wilderness and prevent nuclear waste dumps.

Their message is incredibly important. Worldwide, Mormons now outnumber Jews. In the U.S., there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians. In Utah, there are more than 1.6 million Mormons. California has 756,000, Washington has 233,000, Idaho has 353,000 and Arizona has 322,000. And the church is growing — growing faster, in fact, than any other faith in the Western Hemisphere.

Therein, of course, lies part of the rub. No discussion of Mormons and their views on the environment would be complete without addressing population. The population of Utah, which is 73 percent Mormon, is growing more than twice as quickly as the nation as a whole, and immigration accounts for only 12 percent of that growth. Where are the rest of these new citizens coming from? The Web site for the planning effort, Envision Utah, puts it tactfully: “By 2020, the Greater Wasatch Area (stretching north and south from Salt Lake City) will add a million more residents, two-thirds of whom will be our children and grandchildren.”

Of course, not all Mormons have a gaggle of kids, and Utah’s fertility rate has dropped significantly since the 1960s, from an average of more than four children per woman of reproductive age, to just over two and a half. Still, Utah has the largest families in the nation, and these families have very real impacts on the landscape.

Look at the Greater Wasatch Area: Suburban sprawl has become rampant, and with it traffic jams and pea-soup smog. Water has become scarce enough that the state is talking about damming the Bear River, and potentially drying up a world-class migratory bird refuge. The Wasatch Mountains, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly crowded, as skiers, snowmobilers, hikers and mountain bikers vie for limited space on the public trails.

And yet, most Mormons — even the outspoken environmentalists among them — shy away from the issue of population growth and large families. The church does not require members to have large families, nor does it have a policy against using birth control. But the cultural expectations are strong, and family is the foundation upon which everything else in Mormon society is built.

As you’ll read in this issue, some Mormons are taking on one of Utah’s greatest icons — Glen Canyon Dam — arguing that it should be breached, so that Glen Canyon can emerge from the depths of Lake Powell. Surely, if there’s room for questions about Glen Canyon Dam, there ought to be room for some talk about that other environmental monolith that looms large in Utah and elsewhere in the West: population growth.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: