Frank J. Popper
Buffalo Commons as a
An effective means to pursue a
traditionally central task of geography.
An inclusive way to make thinking
about regions and the probable
changes in them accessible.
The Purpose Of the Buffalo
A large scale land restoration project.
Region For The Buffalo
The Great Plains
Lying between the Rockies and the tall grass
prairies of the Midwest and South.
Extend over large parts of ten states.
Produce significant quantities of cattle, wheat,
cotton, sheep, coal, oil, natural gas, and
Region’s history shows a basic cyclical
pattern of growth and decline.
Periods of high rainfall and federally subsidized
settlement initially induce a boom.
Overgrazing and overflowing erode the soil and
lower the water table; a bust ensues, with
Two cycles have already occurred
First began with the 1862 Homestead Act that
gave 160 acres of free land if it could be
farmed for five years.
The cycle reached it’s zenith in the heavy
rain years of the 1870’s.
It ended in the 1890’s with widespread
starvation and large convoys headed east
out of the Plains.
The second cycle began in the early 1900’s
with new homesteading laws that gave settlers
up to 640 acres.
It reached it’s height during World War I
when American wheat replaced European
production lost to the battlefields.
It ended in the 1930’s with the Great
Depression, drought, the Dust Bowl, and the
abolition of homesteading.
The Third Cycle
The upswing occurred from the 1940’s
to the 1970’s
It had featured the first introduction of
large scale federal subsidies; both
agricultural and energy development.
By the mid-1980’s large parts of the
Plains’ farm, ranch, energy, and mining
economies were in near depression as
the national economy, federal policies,
and global markets shifted.
Population losses had accelerated;
young people in particular had left.
How Buffalo Commons Would
In land-use terms: an umbrella phrase
for a long term restoration project to
counter the long term effects of the
Where land uses were not working
well, replacement land uses that
treated the land more lightly would
The federal government would oversee
the replacement, and the new land
uses would fall between intensive
cultivation/extraction and pure
Reaction to Buffalo Commons
People variously interpreted the
metaphor as a general assault on their
way of life.
Many Great Plains people intensely
disliked the commons portion of the
Sometimes the only point a group
could agree on was that they didn’t like
the Buffalo Commons.
Adaptation of the Metaphor
The Buffalo Commons was specifically
set up as a metaphor so that different
people in different regions could use it
for their specific problems.
– North Dakota sees buffalo production and
buffalo tourism as vital to it’s growth.
– Rural Pacific Northwest has similar problems to
the Great Plains. It has adopted the salmon
metaphor in place of the buffalo to alter certain
“A treasure of insight can be
unlocked via metaphorical
rather than literal or rational
thinking… because metaphor
performs a poetic as well as
conservative function in
preserving as well as creating
knowledge about actual and
between different realms of