'Buffalo Commons' trotted out and shot, again, in Great Plains study

“The Rise of the Great Plains: Regional Opportunity in the 21st Century,” a study of Oklahoma and other Plains states' promise, takes a swipe at old false nemeses Frank and Deborah Popper.
by Richard Mize Published: July 20, 2013

Frank and Deborah Popper are real failures as straw men, which is to say: People really should quit setting them up as straw men, you know, as easy targets for weak arguments.

They're not that easy.

The Poppers, originators of the still sometimes (to some) irritating term “Buffalo Commons” as a metaphor for considering the long-term potential of the Great Plains — and more importantly, instigators of a generation of deliberate thinking and (gasp) planning for the region — took another hit in another recent rise of thinly veiled ire and righteous indignation.

The swipe this time came in “The Rise of the Great Plains: Regional Opportunity in the 21st Century,” a late-2012 study by Joel Kotkin and others sponsored by the Office of the President of Texas Tech University. It can be downloaded here. I hit its high points in this space on July 6, ignoring, for the moment, the sass directed toward the Poppers in the executive summary.

Now, all's fair in love, war and public policy analysis, but the study's characterization of the Poppers' work struck me as faulty and unfair. It bears repeating:

“In a call for a reversal of national policy that had for two centuries promoted growth, two New Jersey academics, Frank J. Popper and Deborah Popper, proposed that Washington accelerate the depopulation of the Plains and create ‘the ultimate national park.' They suggested the government return the land and communities to a ‘buffalo commons,' claiming that development of the Plains constitutes ‘the largest, longest-running agricultural and environmental miscalculation in American history.' They predicted the region will ‘become almost totally depopulated.'”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter Sr.
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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