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Population of the Sonoran Desert

The population of the Sonoran Desert Region as a whole is growing rapidly and, in some core counties and specific population centers, explosively. Based on available data, in 2000, the Sonoran Desert human population, was slightly less than 8 million (Table 1). This number is nearly three and a half times the 1970 population of approximately 2.3 million, and nearly half again as many as the 5.5 million living in the region in 1995 (AAAS 2002). Other estimates of the 1990, and by extension the 1995, population are higher. Nabhan and Holdsworth (1999) estimated a 1990 total population of 6.9 million. Even with this latter figure, the region's population would have increased by 16% during the 1990s.

Despite the widely varying figures, it is apparent the population of the Sonoran Desert has grown and continues to grow rapidly. In the past two years alone, the population in Sonora, Baja California and Baja California Sur has increased by nearly a quarter of a million people. We can assume that many of those people now live in the Sonoran Desert region of those states. Growth rates in the U.S. portions of the region also continue to be high.

Population figures for the Sonoran Desert region as a whole, however, can only be approximated due to fuzzy boundaries, variability of reported data on web-sites dealing with population (especially in Mexico) and inherent errors in census information such as under-reporting.

It is probable that the actual population is considerably higher than the population estimated here based on recent census data. Illegal immigrants to the United States as well as newly arrived internal migrants from other parts of Mexico and Central America attracted to the border region in search of jobs are less likely to be counted officially than legal or permanent residents. In addition, many Sonoran Desert communities receive an influx of part time residents during the winter season who are not counted in the official census. For example, Palm Desert's has a population of 42,000 permanent residents but receives approximately 20,000 additional seasonal residents in winter. And finally, the methodology used for estimating current population figures differed from that used by Nabhan and Holdsworth (1999) for population change from 1970-1990.


Last Updated: November 20, 2002
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