Posted by: ecodestination | April 8, 2009

The Great Plains Await EcoTourists

Since around 2000, increasingly fewer people have been residing on the Great Plains. Numerous environmentalists have grasped this grand opportunity to turn the Plains, uh, plain-y again. Let me rephrase: lovers of nature and the outdoors are working to return the Plains to their original, wild state.

The process includes replenishing fauna and flora populations. It’s definitely working – wolf populations have already risen in the Yellowstone area. Eco lovers fantasize about turning a large chunk of the central US landscape, from West Texas and New Mexico up to the east of the Rockies, into wild, uninterrupted, fenceless, free land, letting become the unfettered, blooming ecosystem it once was-and the newest ecotourism destination in the States.

The idea was originally Professor Deborah and Frank Popper’s. In the late 1980s, they wrote an article in the journal Planning discussing the myriad benefits of restoring the area, which they dubbed the Buffalo Commons, to its original, unharmed state. They proposed turning the local agricultural industry as much as possible into an ecotourism destination.

Not all conservationists agree with this project, but those who do have stepped up and taken charge, making things happen.

The American Prairie Foundation has been purchasing land in the state of Montana to return it to the wild American bison. The Great Plains Restoration Council is doing its part to keep South Dakota’s open land protected. Private landowners have also joined in, buying land to make it the open space it once was, bison and all. One such landowner is Ted Turner. He owns a notable 2 million acres (!) spread over Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Phew. Rock on.

Travel operators have been in place since last year. There custom and group tours available, wildlife safaris (including private plane flights across the land, a growing trend, oh oh), backcountry jeep safaris, and several days long wolf-watching trips, for example. Pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and bison can now be regularly spotted migrating to the vast area. You can also arrange bison hunts if you’re soulless.

Accommodations are often rustic and towns can be spread far out from each other for now. Plans include the building of upscale lodges that will hopefully be ecologically responsible.

Check it:

American Prairie Foundation (406-585-4600;

Custer State Park in South Dakota (605- 255-4515;

Off the Beaten Path is based in Bozeman, Mont. (800-445- 2995;

Logging Camp Ranch is in Bowman, N.D. (701-279-5501;

Dakota Birding operates out of Valley City, N.D. (701-845-4762;

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours is based in Austin, Tex. (800-328-8368;



  1. Anyone wishing more information about the Buffalo Commons work of my wife Deborah Popper and me should go to my Rutgers website, Deborah teaches geography at the College of Staten Island/City University of New York and Princeton Universities. I teach land-use planning at Rutgers and Princeton Universities. The only national organization specifically devoted to creating the Buffalo Commons is the Great Plains Restoration Council, It has headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, and operations in Colorado and South Dakota, and its executive director is Jarid Manos. (Full disclosure: I chair its board.) Best wishes,
    Frank Popper,
    732-932-4009, X689

  2. That is fantastic – thank you so much for the complementary information, Frank!

  3. Another important group is the New Mexico-based National Center for Frontier Communities,, whose executive director is Carol Miller, (Deborah and I are on its board.) It advocates for and does research on small isolated communities, not just in the West or the Great Plalns, but nationally. Best wishes,
    Frank Popper

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