Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

August 1992


Published in Great Plains Research 2:2 (August 1992), pp. 199-222. Copyright © 1992 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


The Popper thesis, that large parts of the U.S. Great Plains are best suited to their pre-settlement role of "buffalo commons" and should be returned to that state, might also be applied to portions of the Canadian prairies north of the 49th parallel. The Canadian Dry Belt, often referred to as the Palliser Triangle, has suffered drought and environmental degradation similar to the U. S. Great Plains. Rural depopulation began in the 1920s, and in the 1930s the region became known as the Canadian Dustbowl. As early as the 1920s, some farmers had begun to work together to develop land-use strategies suited to the dry environment, and the Lethbridge and Swift Current agricultural research stations had been established. It was not until the mid-1930s, however, that the federal government created the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. PFRA took a comprehensive approach to the problem. Along with the provincial governments and other groups, it embarked upon programs to change land-use, develop irrigation, improve farming techniques and diversify the agricultural economy. More recently, subsidies to agricultural producers have slowed the process of returning marginal farmland to pasture or wildland. Nevertheless, a large area of land in the Dry Belt is now under forms of management that are more compatible with the environment, such as the Grasslands National Park, wildlife lands, provincial parks, community pastures, and ecological reserves. The reestablishment of the "buffalo commons" in parts of the southern Canadian prairies has been under way for some time-but without the buffalo.