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April 18, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM by Anne Matthews (Grove Press: $9.95; 193 pp., illustrated). Journalist Anne Matthews followed Rutgers professors Frank and Deborah Popper as they traveled across the central United States, explaining their controversial plan to restore 139,000 square miles of the Great Plains to its original condition. The Buffalo Commons would function as a vast ecological preserve and national park of long and short grass prairie inhabited by indigenous animals. While it seems outrageous initially, the idea actually makes a great deal of sense, ecologically and fiscally. The arid Western section of the Plains has never been suited to farming, and the attempts to turn the region into a grain belt have produced a series of dust bowls. The Buffalo Commons could save the American people billions of dollars that now go to subsidize a system of heavily irrigated agriculture that is rapidly depleting the soil and the vast Ogallala aquifer.

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