Saturday, June 28, 2008

Farming the Oklahoma Panhandle?

Sometimes I wonder if the 1862 Homestead Act is one of the most unforutnate pieces of legislation the U.S. has passed. Primarily, this is because it gave incentive for people to farm land that should never have been farmed. One of those areas is the Oklahoma panhandle. The center of the Dust Bowl, the area has been losing population for almost 100 years, yet still retains many large farms. The area was devastated by another drought in the 1950s. Today, it is seeing perhaps its worst drought on record. The area has had 0.5 inches of rain in the last year. Nothing for all intents and purposes.

Yet the government continues to play a neutral or even negative role in people living and working in this area. It is for areas like this that the Buffalo Commons could come into play. This idea was developed over the last 20 years by Frank and Deborah Popper and suggests that we should depopulate the western plains and allow bison and other animals to roam there again as they did 150 years ago. While it is sad to see these places die, their demise is slow and agonizing and it would be a good idea perhaps for the federal government to engage in a mercy killing. It would be a big investment but it would also return this land to a more ecologically sustainable regime that could handle these kinds of droughts and would also give the remaining residents a big economic boom because of the tourist dollars that would result. It is a complicated idea but one that could be worked out with an intelligent and flexible American government. For instance, one could still put wind farms out there, supplying more of the country with sustainable energy while also allowing bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs to grow in numbers.