|Regions at risk: Comparisons of Threatened Environments (UNU, 1995, 588 pages)|
|6. The Ilano Estacado of the American southern high plains|
Elizabeth Brooks and Jacque Emel
The Southern High Plains have been called "heaven's tableland," the "dust bowl," the "land of enchantment," and the "land of exploitation." Outsiders argue that the land should be allowed to return to a "buffalo commons" (Popper and Popper 1991). Insiders insist that it is "God's country" - the only place they could call home. Whether these views are consonant or conflicting, one thing is certain: the region is undergoing irreversible decline. In fewer than 50 years, human activities, with extensive institutional support, have succeeded in fully replacing the complex grassland ecosystem with a highly mechanized monocrop agriculture dependent upon non-renewable groundwater. Is the region on the threshold of "criticality" as defined in chapter 1 of this volume? For the original grassland ecology, the transformation has been extensive. For the definition of "criticality" as environmental change that threatens human well-being, future systems, and life-support or production capacity, the current regional economy is approaching such a condition.
In this chapter, we outline the environmental changes that have occurred in the region: the institutional, technological, and market forces that have facilitated and encouraged environmental transformation; the vulnerabilities and resulting social and economic impacts; and the social responses to those impacts. Finally, we address the possible futures of the region in terms of the conceptualizations of environmental "endangerment" and "criticality."