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 A colorful and lively look at the controversy surrounding the plan of a New Jersey academic couple to return vast sections of the American Great Plains to their original prairie state. For Frank and Deborah Popper (a land-use planner and a geologist, respectively), the writing is on the wall as far as the semi-arid Plains are concerned. Stretching from Canada through Montana and the Dakotas to Oklahoma and Texas, the area, explains Matthews (Nonfiction Writing/Princeton), was settled by hardy sod- busters late in the last century after the Indians and buffalo had been successfully removed. The newcomers' determined tilling of the prairie soil and heavy grazing by their livestock opened the door to dust-bowl conditions whenever drought occurred, while persistent water demands depleted the aquifer to a fraction of its preagricultural reserve. With the resulting ecological stress readily apparent today, Matthews indicates, radical action seems necessary. The author follows the Poppers on several of their many forays into hostile country, chronicling their rise in notoriety from the inception of their ideas in 1987. In Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Montana, in talks before large audiences and in more casual encounters on the main streets of dying towns, the response is always the same: stiff resistance and shock in the face of apparently undeniable facts. The Poppers' plan for a ``Buffalo Commons''--to be created from dozens of distressed counties in ten Plains states--has created a big stir out west, so that so much of Matthews's report turns not on their ideas but on the couple themselves, in public and private, with media attention and personal responses to them figuring prominently. Eminently readable as a study of personalities and regional differences, and as a popular account of a provocative proposal that may herald a sea change in American land-planning. (Four photographs; one map.)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8021-1408-3
Page count: 203pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1992


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