Magazine article Insight on the News

How Green Is His Wallet? Environmental Groups Refuse to Criticize the Ranching and Land-Management Practices of Billionaire Ted Turner Because His Foundation Gives Millions to Their Cause. (Environment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

How Green Is His Wallet? Environmental Groups Refuse to Criticize the Ranching and Land-Management Practices of Billionaire Ted Turner Because His Foundation Gives Millions to Their Cause. (Environment)

Article excerpt

Billionaire media mogul Ted Turner has pursued his stated goal of saving the environment by purchasing a good portion of it -- 1.8 million acres in 10 states, making him the largest private landowner in the United States. His 20 ranches and other properties cover more than 26,000 square miles in Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Florida, South Dakota, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as Argentina.

But neighbors and other critics say Turner has an odd way of demonstrating his concern for nature on his own land:

* Six of his ranches are world-class sporting destinations that charge up to $4,000 per person for big-game hunts. The CNN founder has sponsored elite bison hunts at $10,500 per person and erected "killer fences" that snare and torture migrating wildlife.

* The exploration for natural gas on the pristine Vermejo Park ranch in New Mexico is expected to net more than $80 million in royalties for the Turner clan during the next 20 years, according to Forbes magazine.

* He ordered the topmost 10 feet of a Montana ridge to be "shaved" by bulldozers, according to The Guardian, so he "could see the Spanish Peaks mountain range reflected in his trout pond."

Ordinarily such behavior would draw howls of protest and legal action from a broad range of environmental groups. But critics of Turner's stewardship say he largely escapes repercussions for such activities because the media mogul is one of the environmental movement's most generous benefactors, donating millions to the cause. Indeed, environmental groups' nickname for Turner is "Daddy Greenbucks."

"When it comes to land-use policy and environmental policy, he treats his own property different than how he wants everyone else to treat their property," says Alan Gottlieb, president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. "There is no doubt hypocrisy here."

Russ Miller, general manager of Turner Enterprises, claims there is no conflict between Turner's environmental philosophy and his ranching operations. The mission of Turner Enterprises is to manage Turner lands in an ecologically sensitive, economically sustainable manner, Miller says.

For example, Turner purchased $500 million worth of land to reintroduce buffalo herds, preserve endangered species and return the land to its natural condition. Today, he owns the world's largest herd of buffalo -- numbering 27,000 -- and is a major producer of buffalo meat.

Turner's latest venture is a new outlet for his bison meat, the Ted's Montana Grill restaurant chain. Currently Turner's meat is sold to a cooperative that the federal government subsidizes in the amount of millions of dollars a year.

Taxpayers also subsidize some Turner ranch operations, which received more than $217,000 in federal funds from 1996 to 2000. There is no means-testing in the award of government grants, Miller explains, noting that Turner invested $1 million along with the grants to restore native grasslands. "People who spend a lot of money to restore grasslands should be able to receive federal funds," he says.

One of Turner's more controversial ranch practices involves what his critics call "killer fences." According to Jack Jones, a retired wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jack Atcheson Sr., a conservation activist honored by Outdoor Life magazine, the electrified fencing around the 12,000-acre Snowcrest Ranch in Montana not only is illegal but kills wildlife that tries to crawl under or through the fence to enter winter feeding grounds. The sportsmen say the fences are 5 feet tall with a bottom rung 9 to 11 inches above ground, a departure from the federal government's definition of a legal fence.

Jones and Atcheson claim to have recorded 23 dead elk and deer along a 500-yard stretch of fence during three field trips in August. "The elk were dead because they could not get over or under the fences," says Jones. …

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