Friday, September 23, 2011

Where the buffalo roam

  Why not Give back the middle of our country to   Nature

 Humans are disappearing from Great Plains as bison and other wildlife return
People  first noticed it a few years ago. The game was coming back.
It was subtle in the beginning - a few more sharp-tailed grouse along the section roads than usual, more deer peering from the margins of the hayfields at night. Then people started noticing there were larger numbers of pronghorn antelope than had ever been seen, and they were hanging around closer to town.
"Even 10 years ago, you never heard of mountain lion or elk around here," said Meirs, a state game warden who works the vast plains and mesa country around Buffalo. "Now they're pretty common. There are even occasional wolf sightings. It's like the wildlife was back there in the shadows, waiting for a change."
The change has been building for decades. The western Great Plains contain the country's greatest demographic anomaly: Its human population is emptying out. The trend, the 2000 census shows, has really gained force over the past decade with the drying up of the ranching economy.
But as people move away, wildlife is starting to fill the vacuum. In an unexpected way, a vision of the Great Plains as a wild commons is taking hold.

"It's funny - Buffalo Commons is really happening," Meirs said, as he sat in his truck on the main drag of Buffalo, a thoroughfare framed by abandoned storefronts. "Not like people thought it would. But it's happening."
The concept of the Buffalo Commons was floated by New Jersey sociologists Frank and Deborah Popper in 1988. The Poppers observed that agriculture had failed miserably on the Great Plains, and noted that the region would probably be almost wholly depopulated save for a few cities by the mid-21st century.
The highest and best use for the area, the Poppers argued, was in its pristine state: A restored prairie cleared of fences and abandoned ranches, reseeded with native bunchgrasses, teeming with wildlife. And foremost among these resurgent animals would be the emblematic beast of the Plains: the buffalo. Back by the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands.

Plains residents, both white and Native American, would earn their money through ecotourism and franchise hunting, not punching cows and growing dryland wheat.

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