Posted by: davepidgeon | November 17, 2009

Where the buffalo once roamed

Great Plains - Somwhere in Kansas

Could areas like this become a new national park? (southerntabitha / flickr) / CC BY 2.0

Something Jon Jarvis, the new National Parks Service director, said to me during my September interview with him for Backpacker has stuck with me. And while I can’t reveal specifically what he said until the interview is published, I’ll say it was related to this story about creating national park land in Kansas for the purpose of re-establishing buffalo herds on the Plains. From the article:

There are numerous arguments in favor of this plan:

Kansas is vastly under-represented in national parkland, and can accurately be considered parkland poor today.

The prairie is the greatest long-term carbon sequestration landscape available, as the grasses take carbon from the atmosphere and bury it deep in the ground, where it stays to nurture plant growth.

A new national park would attract tourists. Europeans, in love with the romance of the American West, would be drawn to it, as would other international visitors and Americans. Parks of similar size and remoteness in Texas and North Dakota attract at least 300,000 visitors a year. With the central location of Kansas, it has the potential to attract more.

Tourism could grow into a lifeline for surrounding counties, all of which are struggling to find ways to keep native sons and daughters at home, but have largely failed to build enough industry or create enough jobs.

Grasslands are the world’s most endangered eco-system, and re-establishing a large patch is important to America’s natural and cultural heritage.

Buffalo Commons is an idea whose time has come.

That’s from an editorial from the Kansas City Star, published Saturday. Aside from all the talk about tourism, there’s the added benefit of returning the buffalo to the Plains, where it once lorded over the landscape. Talk about righting an epic wrong in the natural history of the North American continent.


Massive buffalo herds could make a comeback in Kansas. (Royalty-free Image Collection / flickr) / CC BY 2.0

I hear that Yellowstone National Park has enjoyed a boost in visits due to the re-introduction of wolf packs, with people making specific journeys to Y-stone to view the howlin’ icon of the American wilderness. I imagine a massive buffalo herd could do the same for Kansas, although I have doubts about a Kansas national park attracting 300,000 visitors. I mean, after all, it is Kansas, which lacks the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the coasts, the Sonoran Desert or the Rocky Mountains.

But don’t be surprised if a discussion about a national park in Kansas starts to gain momentum. Given the history of Kansas, though, I doubt very much that establishing a massive tract of federal land in that state would be easy.

Hey, the buffalo is the official state animal, so there’s that.



  1. You’ve been smoking too much of that weed from Obama’s new smokeshops. To think that land out in the middle of nowhere whould draw tourism for Europeans is about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Just the Dem environmentalists at work again! Sounds like a major loss of revenue for the state of Kansas.

    • I believe, Stephanie, I addressed the issue of tourism in the post. I am skeptical about 300,000 visitors coming to Kansas, although I do believe buffalo herds can attract a number of curiousity-seekers. I will say this – I don’t think Kansans give a rip about European tourists coming to their communities as much as having a vibrant agribusiness economy.

      That being said, the current trend in this arena is for habitat restoration. California is experiencing similar restoration efforts on several rivers which had been dammed to the detriment of the salmon population. In Florida, it’s the Everglades.

      And Democrats aren’t the only environmentalists. So too are Republicans, many who hunt and have a vital interest in maintaining healthy wild habitats.

      Oh, and I’m asthmatic. Never tokked in my life. 🙂

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