The Great Plains have been called America’s lost Serengeti. Once, millions
of bison, antelope, and elk roamed here, sustainably hunted by native tribes.
When European settlers arrived, so did cattle, wheat, and fences. Soon the
big wild animals were all but exterminated. The Great Plains boomed for a
while, but declined after the 1920s. By the 1980s, population had plunged,
soil erosion was at Dust Bowl levels, and the Ogallala Aquifer, the source
of much of the region’s water, was dropping fast.
In 1987, geographers Deborah and Frank Popper proposed
called the Buffalo Commons.
The metaphor sparked the region’s imagination. Meetings were held,
studies conducted, task forces formed. What emerged is a movement to reestablish
a corridor large enough for bison and other native wildlife to roam freely.
This unfenced prairie, perhaps ten or twenty million acres in size, would
not only restore some of the bison’s lost habitat; it would turn the
whole region into a high-quality place to live. The Nature Conservancy and
similar entities are now trying to build this commons piece by piece. ... read
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