Bring Back the Buffalo Commons


When I was a kid I distinctly remember my dad having a conversation with his best friend about the “buffalo commons.”  I don’t remember the particulars of that conversation but I do remember the general tone of the conversation and I would say that it wasn’t supportive of the idea.  The idea of a buffalo commons was articulated by Deborah and Frank Popper who were Urban Planning Professors at Rutger’s University.  There article, titled – The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust, advocated for restoring portions of the Great Plains back to common space for buffalo herds to roam again.  This, they argued, would be beneficial to the environment and help manage the population decline of the Great Plains from post-agricultural wasteland to something more environmentally sustainable and aesthetically enjoyable.  I don’t think I like this idea as a kid but I certainly like the idea as an adult.

Two stories I read recently jogged my memory of the buffalo commons.  First, as reported in Vox, the World Wildlife Fund claims in a new report that animal populations have declined 60% since 1970s.  This is just a catastrophic collapse of the web of life.  The Vox article quotes two environmental scientist who say that we should set aside half of all land for animal and plant conservation by 2050 to all these species to survive.  This is a daunting number and politically it will be very difficult but it seems to me we have no other choice.  The other story was from Earther describing a rewinding project of Bison, the first such project east of the Mississippi, in Illinois.  The project is already restoring health to the ecosystem.

The collapse of the world’s web of life is a disaster and we need radical ideas to counteract this catastrophe.  Giving 50% of land back to animals and plants is radical and will meet serious resistance but must be pursued if we want our children and grandchildren to live in a world worth living in.  The buffalo commons would be a great start.

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