Buffalo commons idea lingers – Making the Most of the American Prarie

When a couple of academics from New Jersey suggested 18 years ago that the future of the Great Plains might lie in returning to a less developed past, a roar of protest was heard from Texas to Montana.

The concept of "Buffalo Commons” by Frank and Deborah Popper could stir an argument in the West as quickly as water rights in a drought year. Most Montanans dismissed the Poppers as clueless outsiders.

"When we started writing, people were saying ‘this is preposterous,’ " Deborah Popper said recently in a telephone interview. "But some of it is happening, piece by piece.”

Deborah Popper teaches geography at City University of New York’s College of Staten Island. Her husband, Frank, teaches land-use planning at Rutgers University. Together they authored "The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust,” in the December 1987 issue of Planning magazine, which made them almost as popular on the Plains as an invasion of Mormon crickets.

Even Westerners aren’t as apt to scoff these days as population throughout the Great Plains continues to decline, just as they predicted.

"I think on the whole, it went from a completely crazy, Martian idea to a respectable minority opinion,” Frank Popper said.

Of The Gazette Staff

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