Intermountain West - Population
In the state of Nevada, various government agencies control almost 90 percent of all land. Although the percentages are lower elsewhere, the basic pattern of governmental predominance is found throughout the Intermountain West.
It is not surprising that so much of the land remains in government hands. This area and Alaska were the final regions to be occupied by any substantial numbers of people, and federal programs of land distribution, designed to encourage agricultural use, were not relevant because little of the region held any real agricultural promise. The U.S. Bureau of the Census proclaimed the end of the settlement frontier in 1890, a time when much of the Interior West still remained unsettled. Also, by the time other interests, such as lumbering or mining, began to push for greater private land ownership, the federal government was reevaluating earlier programs in which it distributed land almost for free.
A substantial part of America's total national park system is found in the interior West, including such famous parks as Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Canyon. But the national parks are only a small portion of the total public land area. The largest share of these lands is held by the Bureau of Land Management, a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which puts this land to many uses, grazing being the most important. The bureau has also been the main agent in the construction of irrigation and hydroelectric dams in the area.
The Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the second largest of the federal landholders. The service has traditionally emphasized logging and grazing under its multiple-use charge, and it has increased the quality and quantity of recreational uses of the land.
Two other uses of parts of the Intermountain West say much about the region's past and about America's attitude toward the land's quality and usefulness. First, some of the largest American Indian reservations are found here, especially in northern Arizona and New Mexico. Also, some of the country's largest bombing and gunnery ranges, as well as its only atomic bomb testing facility, are found here. The population is sparse, and alternative demands on the land are not great.
As the agricultural frontier moved westward in the late decades of the 19th century, it largely swept past the Interior West. In fact, were it not for minerals, transportation, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, few people would have chosen the region until well into this century.
The Latter-Day Saints, or, more commonly, the Mormons, were established in upstate New York in 1830. The church and its followers were attacked repeatedly, both verbally and physically, for what were considered their "unusual" beliefs. The Mormons moved several times, searching for a place to practice their religion. Many Mormons, often on foot, pushed into the West, where they hoped to create an independent Mormon state.
The locale they selected for their initial western settlement was the Wasatch Valley, tucked between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake in northern Utah, a location that would later become Salt Lake City. It must have seemed an unlikely spot to begin an agricultural settlement. The climate was dry, the lake saline and useless, and the landscape barren. Nevertheless, the Mormons quickly began their agricultural operations; their settlements expanded as new arrivals came. A high birth rate also pushed their population numbers upward. They dreamed of founding an independent country to be called Deseret, stretching northward into what is now Oregon and Idaho and southward to Los Angeles, California, and Mormon communities were established at greater and greater distances from Salt Lake City.
The Mormons ultimately failed in their hopes for creating Deseret. With the discovery of gold in California and Nevada, American expansion moved through and beyond the Mormon area, and the Mormons again found themselves under the will of the United States. Deseret was divided eventually among a half-dozen different states.
The Mormons were the first Americans to face the problems of life in the Interior West, and they solved the majority of them. None of their solutions was more important than irrigation. Americans had previously had no need for extensive irrigation, and the techniques and central control necessary to collect and move water to a large number of agricultural users were almost unknown. The Mormons constructed a large number of storage dams on the western slopes of the Wasatch Range, and many kilometers of canals moved the water to the users in the valley below.
The results of these efforts today cover much of the valley with agricultural crops, trees, and green lawns. These early efforts at large-scale irrigation were the beginning of an irrigation boom in the interior West. Mormons continue to have a substantial impact on the Interior West. Of the roughly 11 million persons found in this region, over 1.5 million are Mormons.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|