Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Joanna Endter-Wada


Joanna Endter-Wada


Shujuan Li


Mark Brunson


Jeffrey S. Horsburgh


Christopher Lant


Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the USA. Utah’s Wasatch Range Metropolitan Area (WRMA), where 80% of Utah’s population resides, is growing at unprecedented rates and has seen extensive urban landscape transformation in the last half century. Many of Utah’s agricultural lands, grasslands, and wetlands have been transformed into urban areas during this time. Local residents have watched and experienced these changes to their local environment, but without a clear understanding of the processes and impacts of urbanization. It is not until we study these landscapes from a spatial perspective and the time scale of decades that we can begin to measure the changes that have occurred and predict the impact of changes to come if current trajectories continue. In this dissertation research I worked with my research colleagues to provide a comprehensive analysis of the WRMA’s past land use changes and future land use trends. In doing so, we: (1) measured the rate, the magnitude, and the process of past urban growth; (2) compared the changes of irrigated agricultural lands and non-irrigated agricultural lands in relation to urban development; and, (3) predicted how future urban growth could occur under various policy scenarios.

We found that several counties at the heart of the WRMA have reached the limits of their capacity for future urban expansion. Thus, increasing urban density and land use efficiency will be key aspects of addressing the WRMA’s future growth. Also, variations of growth trends exist among and within the ten counties located in the WRMA, so it is necessary to develop contextualized and localized growth management plans. Furthermore, past land use dynamics prove that irrigated agricultural lands are more affected by urbanization than non-irrigated agricultural lands, with evidence of increasing agricultural lands fragmentation. Agricultural lands have been and will likely continue to be the major land source for future urban development. Utah’s public has indicated it wants to preserve agricultural lands to maintain open space and preserve cultural heritage, but this will require political attention and actions focused on areas where these lands are particularly vulnerable in the face of urban growth trajectories. The overall dissertation provides quantitative measurement of Utah’s urban landscape transformation and a science-based foundation for crafting successful land use policies to help guide future growth of the WRMA.