Special Report

Sir Ted’s Excellent Western Adventure

Who cares if he rides roughshod over the interests of cattle ranchers?

By 4.10.02

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Ted Turner began accumulating properties in the West starting with his acquisition of the legendary Flying D Ranch (129,000 acres) south of Bozeman, Montana, a decade ago. From there, he picked up additional moribund but expansively beautiful spreads in other parts of Montana, and in New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and eastern properties in Florida and South Carolina. Fourteen in all (including two ranches in Argentina), totaling 1.8 million acres. His holdings would cover half of Connecticut, and his main occupation -- maybe hobby is the better word -- on these lands is the raising of 25,000 bison. The media mogul is America's #1 private landowner, ranked up there with such corporate giants as International Paper Co. and Sierra Pacific Industries. Turner, currently worth approximately $5 billion, has invested a mere $600 million in these ranches. A little of Turner goes a long way to cause trouble.

Unlike the traditional American land-rich, cash-poor agrarian entrepreneur (the vast plantations of the ante-bellum South come to mind), Turner has giant tracts of real estate complimented by gobs of financial capital. His "Turner Endangered Species Fund" permits the environmentally-minded plutocrat the indulgence of playing God, ironically something that old atheist Ted has no problem with concerning his own holdings.

On his Snowcrest Ranch (at 12,000 acres, one of his smaller fiefdoms) near Alder, Montana, where he raises bison, Lord Turner has installed six strand electrified wire fence five feet high, a full foot higher than the standard four-feet-high, four-strand fence usually seen on western rangelands. These keep his bison in, but also inhibit the free movement of migratory deer and elk, and essentially permit Turner to create his own game farm as these animals are either prisoners of the Snowcrest, or on the outside, looking in.

For example, deer have no trouble leaping four-feet fences, but five feet is dicey. Elk being heavier have even more trouble. Montana wildlife officials have reported dozens of elk and deer carcasses enmeshed in these "death fences," as the animals futilely try to escape or enter. The bottom strands are only seven inches above the ground, half the fifteen inch level called for by a Montana state fencing law, making squeezing under difficult (Pronghorn antelope, for instance, never jump, but always squeeze underneath). Sir Ted is in some legal hot water lately with the State of Montana over these fences.

On the Vermejo Park Ranch (at 580,000 acres the largest private real estate parcel in the United States) in New Mexico, the media titan has reintroduced black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs, endangered species both. As such they pose a legal threat to the livelihoods of neighboring ranchers, given that they're likely to migrate from Turner's property. (No matter, the Emperor Ted has put forth a decree stating that he thinks cattle ranching a "foolish mistake.")

The Vermejo is home to New Mexico's largest elk herd, and here Baron Turner charges well-heeled sportspersons $13,000 for a special permit to kill a trophy bull. Also $700 for deluxe "fishing weekends." There is a theory that this wildlife belongs to the people of New Mexico; after all, their taxes and license fees go to the state agencies that manage it. But they're not seeing a cut from Duke Turner's four-star safaris other than what they collect from his normal property taxes. And, of course, the average New Mexican better not be caught on the place while hunting one of King Ted's ungulates. Woe to such riffraff. What the King does with those exorbitant fees is unknown, but it's a good bet they help support his multiple wildlife programs.

Such as the project he's got going on another New Mexico property, the Armendaris Ranch (360,000 acres, much of it rough, mountainous terrain). Though still in the planning stage, here Lord Turner dreams of restoring to New Mexico skies the long-gone California condor. Given that the condor is a bird, and that birds fly, this endangered species promises to cause much Turner-playing-God mischief. Though some good may come of this in the end. Maybe the condors will abandon their wild aviary for the more civilized surroundings of a roost in an Albuquerque city park, thus inviting radical Green litigation demanding that Albuquerque's human population be immediately evacuated. Maybe there is a conspiracy afoot here. Does Lord Ted secretly believe that the human habitation of New Mexico is a "foolish mistake"?

On his Bad River Ranch in South Dakota the media sultan wills the existence of Swift Foxes; on his Ladder Ranch in New Mexico holding pens bulge with Mexican Gray Wolves. Sir Ted's Excellent Western Adventure is just beginning.

When asked about Sir Ted's New Mexico activities, and his properties elsewhere, Caren Cowan of the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association told a reporter: "We're happy to share him with other folks. He has thumbed his nose at four hundred years of custom and culture in this state."

Bad show, Ms. Cowan. You knave, you oaf, you cattle rancher.

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About the Author

Bill Croke, formerly of Cody, Wyoming, is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.