As the economy of the high plains falters decade after decade, the idea of a big high plains park could really help the economy-

A new park to save the plains,

We already have approached this idea here in our discussion of the population decline of northeast Montana with wildlife from the Rockies, such as grizzlies and others, moving out onto the high plains on their own.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

31 Responses to A new park to save the plains?

  1. gline says:

    Buffalo Commons – would they put Buffalo in this park???;) sounds like a great idea – a celebration of the prairies.

  2. Leslie says:

    Finally, impressive, that the Star is endorsing the idea. Maybe it will become a reality.

  3. Mike says:

    Really an enthralling idea. this is an area of the country in desperate need of real conservation.

  4. Bogo says:

    I like it. I think they should also include parts of Colorado and Nebraska. I see lots of land in the area that looks to only be good for cattle. Starting at US 34 in Nebraska, southwest to Kirk Colorado looks interesting. I would also include the river valley to the SE.

  5. steve c says:

    That might be the only way anyone would ever get me to visit Kansas.

  6. gline says:

    Lol , me too. Have never even considered Kansas or midwest at all really.

  7. bigbrowntrout says:

    Theres nothing wrong w/ Kansas or the midwest. Don’t get me wrong I love my place in the mountains. Its good to visit to meet the people, check out the landscape, and see what it’s all about. I’ve seen some of the most amazing whitetail deer and waterfowl habitat in Kansas.

  8. Chris H says:

    I have travelled through the plains states many times and I admit at first I thought it a bit dismal. However, I soon learned to love it. There are already quite a few small parks which are pretty cool: Ft. Larned, Scottsbluff, Agate Fossil Beds and the Sand Creek Massacre site.
    The best might be Theodore Roosevelt N.P. in North Dakota.
    There are also a lot of interesting and scenic state parks.

  9. JW says:

    I agree with Steve C,
    there is nothing wrong with Kansas but a national park would be the reason why I visited, esp. if I could see bison roaming in free-ranging herds, and eventually wolves…

  10. paulWTAMU says:

    how long has it been since we got a new national park? I love high prarie and anything to save it gets a positive in my book.

  11. Robert Hoskins says:

    The Buffalo Commons was a brilliant idea 20 years ago, yet every year demonstrates its increasing practicality. My only recommendation is that any land purchased should go into the national wildlife refuge system rather than the national park system. The National Park Service has proven itself time and time again to be the most hidebound of the federal land management agencies, as we see with bison mismanagement in Yellowstone. The NPS is mostly run by rangers, that is, cops, or those with a police mentality. We can do better.


  12. catbestland says:


    Nice to hear from you again. I always learn so much from your posts. I agree the land should go into a nationl wildlife refuge system, not a park. Don’t be a stranger.

  13. gline says:

    Yes, havent seen your name in quite awhile RH..

  14. Robert,

    Yes. Thank you for the comments!

  15. I was just looking at western Kansas on Google Earth too (I have another comment using Google Earth up looking at Banff National Park).

    It’s pretty clear the population density is very low with a lot of what was probably once plowed ground now probably just dry land grazing.

    There are also a lot of irrigation pivot crop circles visible. This will disappear as the the Ogalala aquifer continues to drop due to its overexploitation. Many might be gone already as the Google images are often 5 years out of data.

  16. Kevin says:

    This would be amazing, but it seems like it’s a long long way from happening. The endorsement of the newspaper doesn’t mean much, when someone in power gets behind it then I’ll be excited. Also any ideas on how long something like this would take once it got rolling?

  17. Save bears says:


    I think it would move along faster, if it was considered for Refuge status over NPS status, and I agree with Robert that would be a far better way to go than an actual National Park Status…but at any rate, I would think your looking at, at least 10-20 years before anything could come to fruition.

  18. ProWolf in WY says:

    A national park surrounded by a buffer zone would be the ideal way to go. You could get tourists visiting the park and the animals would be protected, but you would also be able to allow for some recreation like hunting in a buffer zone around it. It would be great if it could be a true return to the original plains and have grizzlies and wolves restored, albeit in small populations.

  19. Cliff says:

    I don’t believe small populations of the large predators would be genetically viable, unless they are somehow linked to larger populations outside the area, which seems unlikely. I’d rather see a large area with all the natural predators restored in a fully intact ecosystem so that hunting would be unnecessary.

  20. Barb Rupers says:

    I have not been involved with restoration of midwest short grass prairies but I know it is very difficult to do here in Oregon. After treatment for weeds and reseeding with native seeds and plants if 50% native plants are present after a few years it is considered a success. Wet prairies are easier – 75% natives. Too many foreign weeds; blackberries, Scotch broom, teasel, wild carrot, poison hemlock, oxeye daisy, and penny royal (in wet areas), are my biggest invaders. There are more non native grasses than native growing here.

    A bison commons sounded like a good idea when first proposed and still does.

    I’ve missed your comments Robert Hoskins!

  21. Steve C, gline, JW,
    Suggest you take a second look at Kansas to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills. We went there a couple years ago over Memorial Day weekend. The spring flowers were beautiful. Tremendous history, beautiful scenery, and the Nature Conservancy has recently reintroduced bison in a portion of the preserve. I’m all in favor of the Buffalo Commons idea. Probably want to connect to TNC’s Smoky Valley Ranch in that area (Logan county). It would be stunning.

  22. Jeff says:

    As a native of Kansas I like the high plains but the area that is most impressive is the Tall Grass Prairie especially the Flint Hills in the eastern third of the state. Big swaths of the Flint Hills were never plowed due to the rocky soil. KSU jointly manages the Konza Praire with the Nature Conservancy or some other similar organization. Elk and Bison both run free on the Konza Prairie and adjacent Fort Riley Army Base. A half ass attempt at a National Park was made further south. Unfortunately the cattle lobby is powerful in Kansas and grazing was grandfathererd. I forget what the mangagement plan arrangement is for the lands in the southern Flint Hills. Unfortunately, from a public access point of view) the most impressive restoration of the plains is likely to take place at the hands of wealthy private landowners. I believe Wallace County is where Blackfooted Ferrets werer released last year. It was on both private lands and Nature Conservancy lands.

  23. Doug says:

    Great idea! The midwest and the prairie ecosystem need more thought, attention, and love from our nation. The farming in that area is so water intensive and cattle heavy, both uses that make less sense each year. Be interested in the outreach effort to the residents of the area.. might be pretty dicey, but I think a lot of them would see the value. It would probably have to be a national park, because that is brand that tourists are most familiar with, and obviously a lot of this interest stems from an economic angle. They’d also have to include some charismatic carnivores to drive tourist interest. Wolves seem like a good fit, but more than 4 or 5 grizzlies in that area would be a stretch, and without any linkages or genetic diversification possibilities that is not very realistic. Interesting, interesting, great brain candy.

  24. JimT says:

    It is about time we paid more attention to the tremendous loss of the prairie ecosystems and did more than the fragmented efforts being conducted now by very brave, dedicated private and non profit groups. I like the park status because more protections can potentially be put in, but they are much harder to get approved politically.

    If I remember correctly, and someone please tell me if I am right or wrong, but I believe National Wildlife Refuge creation does not require Congressional action; that it can be created by President/Secretary of the Interior…..

    Tall grass prairies are gorgeous, but even better, they will be very well suited to fit the current drought situations once established, with root systems often 6-12 feet deep. Of course, if the states keep ignoring the WATER situation by pumping aquifers dry, it won’t matter much what kind of ecosystem you want…it will be stressed.

    BTW,on a totally different subject, in the Daily Camera yesterday, Boulder’s very average paper, there was a guest commentary by someone named Tom Rooney, CEO of SPG Solar Co, I not where it is located. In it he addresses the impact on water from all the emphasis on developing new sources of energy, be it nuclear, solar, or traditional fossil fuels like the oxymoronic “clean coal”. Some factoids. 49% of all water in California is used for energy. In that same state, 20% of its power generated is used to move water!

    The only sources of energy exempt from high water use for cooling are wind and photovoltaic. A central AC unit running 12 hours a day..certainly the rule in the Southwest states..will use up to 16, 800 gallons of water annually.

    My wive and I keep telling people.”It’s the WATER,”…but it is amazing just how dense people are about it. The power structure here in Colorado is THIS close to running close to 120 miles of giant transmission towers down the length of the amazingly beautiful San Luis Valley, ruining that environmental feature forever. It isn’t because the local population is demanding it; it will go elswhere, leaving the local farmers and small towns to bear the cost on what little ecosystem and hunting economies they have. Two things the San Luis Valley has in abundance…sunshine, and water.

    I don’t know why these new lines can’t be required to be buried..they did in the Hood River scenic area of the Columbia. Why not other irreplaceable treasures of nature?

  25. ProWolf in WY says:

    Doug, wouldn’t a million acres hold more than four or five grizzlies? I k now that the GYE and Northern Continental Divide are not just Yellowstone and Glacier, but I would think at least a few more grizz could live in a million acres. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

  26. gline says:

    I will look it up on the net Patrick, thank you.

  27. gline says:

    from the Tallgrass prairie website:
    “Thirteen head of bison are once again back on the preserve. The genetically pure bison come from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and will be the parent herd for the preserve. This keystone species once roamed the North American prairies in the millions. Today they are making a come back.”


  28. Jackrabbit says:

    I’ve read a bit about the Buffalo Commons, and it would be really cool to see it work.

    The Great Plains are our least appreciated area. I’m a bit hazy on the wildlife refuge vs national park issue, but we definitely need more wild lands in this area. If you’ve ever spent any time out in the prairies, they’re surprisingly beautiful. They lack the ‘wow’ factor of big epic mountains, but the lines of the earth and the sheer amount of sky more than make up for it.

    Once again, great idea.

  29. Jeff says:

    The disappointment is that the Tall Grass Preserve is nearly 11,000 acres and yet bison will only be allowed on a little over 1,000 acres…Cattle will be present on 90% of the preserve with only a token bison herd on 1/10 of the land. This part of Kansas is beautiful though, I just wish they could create a full blown prairie reserve with bison and elk running free. Pronhorn were released in the Flint Hills about 15-20 years ago south of Emporia, Kansas and about 50 still hand on, for some reason they haven’t flourished. Too many coyotes? I know in the Lamar the presence of wolves helped antelope by knocking down the coyote numbers.

  30. gline says:

    cattle on the preserve??

  31. ProWolf in WY says:

    Gline, I am not surprised there are cattle there. So few places don’t have them. The National Bison Range has cattle almost directly on the other side of the fence. It makes for an interesting view of a place with and without cattle ranching as well as with buffalo’s’ influence.


November 2009


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey