The Great Plains are enormous – about 32 million acres – but they are not limitless. In fact, the vast majority of the land that was once a healthy, bio-diverse buffalo range is now taken up by industrial agriculture – crop production, feedlots, and cattle grazing.
There are only a few places where large-landscape, free-roaming buffalo husbandry is possible and the cost of that land exceeds its value when figured on a production analysis basis. No entity – non-profit conservation groups, wealthy individuals, or government agencies – has enough money to expand the modern buffalo range to a meaningful size.
Those of us who are interested in that goal must turn to a realistic economic model that can create a cash flow that is up to the tasks of 1) operating large-landscape buffalo ranches and 2) gathering the necessary capital for expansion to the limits of the realistically available land and 3) saving a threatened ecosystem.
The huge buffalo herds of the pre-European Great Plains were kept in balance by large predators – mostly grey wolves and Native Americans – but also grizzly bears and mountain lions. Most of those natural culling forces are gone. In their absence, and without the advent of new forces, modern buffalo herds would over populate their range to the point of ecosystem destruction in a few years – long before enough capital could be accumulated to acquire new land.
The thoughtful and humane harvest of the excess buffalo mimics the effect of those natural forces. Selling the healthy red meat that would have gone to the large predators to modern people in search of healthy, truly grass-fed buffalo meat, is the best, and perhaps the only way to finance the recovery of America’s great buffalo herds and saving our environment.