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Buffalo Commons

In 1987 Frank J. and Deborah Popper were looking for a closing argument for an essay on ecology. They were examining the depopulation that has occurred in western and Midwestern states such as Kansas. They argued that current use of dryer parts of the plains was unsustainable, and every year the plains lose more and more residents. They proposed to solve this problem by restoring the area to the buffalo commons.

The buffalo commons would consist of large tracts of land, 139,000 square miles in 10 states, that would be returned to natural prairie grass. In the proposal, farmers would voluntarily consent to participate. Their farmlands would be slowly transitioned to ranch lands. Landowners would be compensated for the lost farm revenue, and they would be responsible for reestablishing the native short grasses. The population of buffalo would naturally increase. The idea was that the buffalo would provide a new form of revenue, and would be more sustainable than farming.

The buffalo commons idea was met with reproach when first proposed. Many farmers feared it was simply a plot by the government to get their land, or that it would ruin the traditional way of life in states like Kansas.  However as the years progressed people became more accepting of the idea. With more and more people leaving Kansas, and the rural prairie becoming more empty, some see the wisdom in the Poppers' idea. Where the Poppers' ideas once were reviled, they have become more popular. The couple is now being asked to speak in many rural areas.

The buffalo commons idea may never be put into action, but it is a proposal being considered. A growing number of Kansans are beginning to raise buffalo, and let the natural prairie grasses return to as natural state.

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Entry: Buffalo Commons

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: July 2011

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