Comment on the Future of the Great Plains: Not a Buffalo Commons

By DeBres, Karen J.; Kromm, David E. et al. | Focus, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Comment on the Future of the Great Plains: Not a Buffalo Commons


DeBres, Karen J., Kromm, David E., White, Steven E., Focus


The Buffalo Commons Proposal, whether offered in this issue of FOCUS or in its original 1987 version, has served a useful function in alerting the nation to the environmental, economic and social problems long acknowledged in the Great Plains. But having seen and heard the Poppers' ideas in several places, we feel obliged to ask the following question. Are Frank and Deborah Popper deliberately discussing this topic in such a way, so as to create an emotionally charged atmosphere? Are they at times greatly exaggerating certain negative conditions in the Plains while glossing over or ignoring altogether other, more positive, attributes? Again, while this may be a good tactic for a public debate, we wonder about its usefulness when applied in print. We raise this point for several reasons.

We question the Poppers' tactic of creating an environmental context which overstates the negative aspects of the Plains environment. Sometimes their descriptions are plain wrong. For example, neither the hottest summers nor the coldest winters occur in the region. Nor do the shortest growing seasons occur in the Great Plains. They also say that the greenhouse effect "has growing credibility and seems likely to hit the southern Plains particularly hard". We don't think there is any debate about the "greenhouse effect", which we assume that the Poppers are equating with global warming. However, there is still a good deal of uncertainty about the "greenhouse effect", which we assume that the Poppers are equating with global warming. However, there is still a good deal of uncertainty about global warming as evidenced by a book by geographer Robert Balling (1992) titled The Heated Debate: Greenhouse Predictions Versus Climate Reality. The Poppers tend to write in vivid, broad, sweeping statements with little or no factual verification, a style which weakens even their valid arguments.

In several recent articles, the Great Plains are described by Frank and Deborah Popper as - spare and weather whipped, endlessly windswept, the land of the Dust Bowl (with "dusty" towns, of course) and as having the nation's hottest summers and coldest winters, the worst hail, locusts and range fires, fiercest droughts and blizzards (that throw black grit no less), and its shortest growing season. According to the Poppers, the Great Plains is a place where "privacy is almost too easily obtained" and where "visitor learns to recognize the Plains person's 20-yard stare"; a place running out of water and where towns are withering and dying. The future holds desertion with "safaris across Kansas, indians in gatherings of the lost tribes of Texas, giant abandoned North Dakota power plants that become environmentalist shrines." What a place! Let the buffalo loose now!

The Poppers' negative description of the Great Plains does not match the inhabitants' vision of their personal reality; the natives' sense of place is much more humane, warm, and positive. …

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