Who Needs North Dakota?

I’m back from a couple of days in New York. During a break in a deposition today, my witness pointed out this opinion piece by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof: “Make Way for Buffalo.”
Kristof argues that “parts of ten states”–a “large chunk of the plains,” apparently including most or all of North Dakota–should be turned into a “Buffalo Commons,” where buffalo and other wild animals would roam free. People would still live on the Great Plains, I guess, but their major industry would be tourism rather than farming and ranching.
As a native of South Dakota, it’s easy for me to go along with the proposition that North Dakota should be given back to the buffalo. But certain questions nag at the back of my mind. Buffalo, in their natural state, migrate over long distances. What exactly does Mr. Kristof think will happen when the buffalo come to, say, Sioux Falls? Or Omaha? Or, perish the thought, Minneapolis?
Kristof appears to think that the Great Plains a a whole are expendable: “It sounds cruel to say so, but towns like Rawson are a reminder that the oversettlement of the Great Plains has turned out to be a 150-year-long mistake, one of the longest-running and most costly errors in American history.” Now, I suspect I’ve spent a lot more time than Nick Kristof driving around in the Dakotas, and “oversettlement” is not the word that comes to mind. In many places, you can go for a really, really long time and not see anyone.
Kristof is full of sympathy for the grinding poverty he finds in the small towns of North Dakota. But last time I checked, North Dakota had more millionaires per capita than any other state. I wonder what those folks would think about being told to abandon their homes to “make way for buffalo.” Actually, I suspect that the “poor” people Kristof interviewed would react in exactly the same way to being told to clear out and give their land over to buffalo and mountain lions.
We really try to be fair to people like New York Times columnists. We try not to stereotype them as ignorant and arrogant. But often they are, in fact, ignorant and arrogant. The scary thing is, Kristof is one of the Times’ better columnists. God knows what Paul Krugman would like to do to the Dakotas.
DEACON responds: He’d probably like to move Israel there.
UPDATE: Mitch Berg–an escapee from North Dakota–has a lengthy deconstruction of Mr. Kristof on his site, Shot in the Dark.


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