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Monday, May 11, 1998

Blame Babies, Not Transplants, for Growth in Utah


    Todd Weston leaned on the nursery window at Ogden's McKay-Dee Hospital, admiring the delicate, blanketed bundle on the other side. Pink, sleeping, perfect. Christine. Eight pounds. Three hours old. The Westons' fifth.
    By 2020, little Christine will be old enough to start a family of her own. But will she want to do it here? What will Utah be like then?
    Crowded, according to all the projections, statistics and experts. Crowded, not just from transplants from California or New York or the places in-between, but from Utah-born babies.
    As a state with the nation's highest birth rate, few would argue that Utah could be considered the nation's Mother's Day capital. It's cultural. Families are as much a part of Utah as red rocks and perfect snow.
    Although Utah's fertility rates have declined through the decades, they have consistently remained the nation's highest. Utah mothers gave birth to a record 42,398 babies last year, breaking the 1996 record of 40,371.
    And state officials expect another record this year. So as Utahns fret about highways, subdivisions and disappearing open space, they might consider that those out-of-state neighbors next door are not the ones most responsible for the population explosion.
    Last year, Utah gained more than twice as many people through birth than through people moving into the state, according to figures from the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget. If no one had moved here from out-of-state from 1990 to 1997, Utah still would have gained almost 200,000 new people, the figures show.
    And during the next 50 years, experts say, two-thirds of the state's population growth will depend on Utahns' family-planning decisions.
    ``There is no silver bullet to solve this,'' Gov. Mike Leavitt said last month about Utah's overall growth rate. ``You can't solve this problem because it's continuous. You have to manage it.''
    Leavitt, a father of five, is among the government officials and planners reluctant to talk about Utah's birth rate. Family planning is a personal decision, they say.
    Officials from the Mormon church, to which about 70 percent of Utahns belong, including Leavitt, emphasize the sanctity of the family unit. But they also say decisions about having children should be left to individuals.
    The Mormon church has no policy against birth control. Couples are encouraged to have only as many children as they can physically, emotionally and financially afford, said Don LeFevre, church spokesman.
    Utah's internal growth cannot be ignored, said Kerrie Galloway, director of Planned Parenthood of Utah. Nearly half of all births are unintended, she said, and Utahns could learn more about family planning.
    Historically, Utah's fertility rate -- the number of live children to which a woman will give birth from the time she is 15 until she is 44 -- has been as high as 4.3, recorded back in 1960. It now stands at about 2.64, according to the most recent figures available.
    That is higher than the national average of 2.0.
    By 2020, about 2.7 million people will live in the greater Wasatch Front region, a 10-county area from Brigham City to Nephi and Park City to Tooele. By 2050, about 5 million will live here, according to projections calculated by technicians working for Envision Utah, a statewide growth-management think tank.
    Those experts predict 43,000 new residents -- most of them Utahns' children and grandchildren -- will call the Wasatch Front home annually. It's like adding a town the size of Bountiful every year. [an error occurred while processing this directive]