In 1987 geographers Frank and Deborah Popper wrote their now-famous “Buffalo Commons” article. In the article, published in December of that year in Planning magazine under the title “The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust,” the Poppers argued that the interplay of environmental, economic, and demographic variables would foster the eventual formation of a “Buffalo Commons” across remote, depopulated segments of the American Great Plains. This “Commons” would consist of large bison herds, which according to the Poppers represented the most environmentally sustainable and economically viable use of the semiarid grassland regions of the continental United States.
Yet, over twenty-five years after the publication of the widely readarticle, it is now evident that the Poppers’ vision of the Great Plains will never come to pass. Three environmental factors (all related to climate change)guarantee that the Buffalo Commons will remain only a theoryrather than an actual means of organizing the Great Plains environment and economy.