Cut Turner a Break
If you want to contribute with our work, sending no money,
Billionaire Ted Turner 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. But neighbors and other
critics say Mr. Turner, 63, has an odd way of demonstrating his concern for
nature on his own land: The CNN founder sponsored elite bison hunts at $10,500
per hunter and erected "killer fences" that snare and torture migrating
He cuts timber and drills for natural gas. He even bulldozed a hilltop to create
a better view of a mountain range that is 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 Mr. Turner's stewardship
of his lands 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. "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,"
said Alan Gottlieb, president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
"There is no doubt a hypocrisy here."
But Russ Miller, general manager of Turner
Enterprises, says there is no conflict between Mr. Turner's environmental philosophy
or philanthropy and his ranching operations. The mission of Turner Enterprises
is to manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable, ecologically sensitive
manner while conserving native species, Mr. Miller said. "I
consider myself a serious rancher,"
Mr. Turner told USA Today. "But we're
not trying to squeeze the last nickel out of everything. We're trying to leave
an adequate portion for wildlife."
Mr. Turner purchased $500 million worth of land to reintroduce
buffalo herds, preserve endangered species, tear down miles of fences and return
the land to its natural condition. Today, he owns the world's largest herd of
buffalo numbering 27,000 and is the major producer of buffalo
meat. Buffalo are harvested on site as part of a commercial hunting venture.
Mr. Turner's latest venture is to create a new outlet for his bison meat, a
chain of restaurants called Ted's Montana Grill that will feature the Western
The meat already 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, Mr.
Miller said, noting that Mr. 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," the Turner Enterprises general
Mr.Turner's 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 in Argentina. The ranches are world-class
hunting and fishing destinations that charge up to $4,000 per person for big-game
hunts in addition to the pricier buffalo hunts. Mr. Turner ordered the topmost
10 feet of a Montana ridge to be "shaved" by bulldozers, the London
Guardian newspaper reported, so he "could
see the Spanish Peaks mountain range reflected in his trout pond."
Mr. Turner has cut timber on his BarNone and Vermejo Park ranches in Montana
and New Mexico. And exploration for natural gas on the pristine Vermejo ranch
which crosses into Colorado is expected to net more than $80 million
in royalties for the Turner clan over the next 20 years, according to Forbes
Mr. Miller could not confirm how much the Turner family will
receive in royalty payments. He said the family unsuccessfully sought to purchase
mineral rights when they bought the property from PennzEnergy. Instead, the
family negotiated to forge ahead with development with agreed-upon environmental
protections, Mr. Miller said. "We
wanted to control our own destiny, but [the mineral rights] were not for sale,"
he said. The leading critics of what they call "killer fences" and
other Turner ranch practices are sportsmen Jack Jones, a retired wildlife biologist
for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jack Atcheson Sr., a conservation
activist who has been honored by Outdoor Life magazine.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Atcheson say 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 60 inches tall with a bottom rung 9 to 11 inches above ground,
a departure from the federal government's definition of a legal fence. Mr. Jones
and Mr. Atcheson say they 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. So they died a horrible death after spending
five to seven days starving to death while continually being shocked,"
Mr. Jones said. Mr. Miller said animal carcasses have been found along the fence
line, "but that doesn't mean the fence
had anything to do with the death of the animals."
The law requires fencing for livestock operations to control animal movement,
Mr. Miller said. A gate allowing access to feeding grounds is supposed to be
open during winter months. "We have
many fewer miles of fences now than when we bought our ranches,"
the Turner spokesman said. "Tight fences
make good neighbors; you don't allow your animals to range on someone else's
'Bit of a problem'
Mr. Miller referred further questions on the fence to Jeff Hagener,
director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who acknowledged
cause for concern. "It
appears that last winter, a number of gates were not left open,"
Mr. Hagener said. "It's my understanding
we are working with Turner to install more gates or fix parts of the fence where
the fence is too high or too low [for wildlife] to get through it. We're trying
to address issues that do seem to be a bit of a problem."
Mr. Hagener said the fencing does not appear to cross federal land and so does
not violate federal guidelines. However, his and other agencies are reviewing
state guidelines to determine whether changes are warranted.
The Montana wildlife agency has a good relationship with the Turner ranches,
Mr. Hagener said, but others harbor a "lot
of resentment" over Mr. Turner's different
kind of management for his vast acreage. Other ranchers, the sportsmen say,
are held to a higher standard than Mr. Turner. "If
a cattle rancher had a fence like that, all these bleeding-heart clubs would
be after these guys' heads, there is no doubt about it,"
Mr. Jones said. "But since it's Ted
Turner, they turn their heads and they don't want to talk about it." The
Turner family intentionally fenced in wildlife to create a private game ranch,
the sportsmen say.
Hunting operations on six Turner ranches target bison, elk, deer, antelope,
oryx and turkey; fly-fishing is free but hunting fees range in the thousands.
Asked why environmental groups are not protesting Turner ranching or hunting
operations, Mr. Jones pointed to the Turner Foundation and said, "Follow
the money trail and see where it leads."
Millions in donations
The Turner Foundation, headed by Mr. Turner and his children,
awarded 3,143 grants totaling more than $152 million from 1991 to 2000 to environmental
and population-control groups, foundation President Michael Finley said. "We
give to groups that are interested in protecting the environment ... or support
sustaining use of the environment, which includes hunting and fishing,"
Mr. Finley said.
Mr. Turner, an avid hunter, donates money to conservation groups that support
hunting, including the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Ducks
Unlimited. "If someone is postulating
that this foundation only provides funding to groups who are anti-timber cutting,
anti-hunting, anti-fishing, that is totally inaccurate,"
Mr. Finley said. "Our whole emphasis
is working with groups and institutions looking for long-term stability in terms
of protecting our environment. We recognize that we need a strong economy, that
we need to utilize our resources, but to do it in a sensitive and sustainable
manner so that in 100 years we have something left."
Mr. Turner's philanthropy "proceeded
huge land acquisitions," Mr. Finley
said. "To say he started giving to defer
criticism someone has it backwards."
The National Wildlife Federation has received $1.8 million from the Turner Foundation
for outreach projects and informational sessions on endangered species. The
federation also led the fight to make fences like those on the Turner ranch
illegal on federal property.
Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said he had
no direct knowledge of the fence but praised Mr. Turner's contributions to the
environment. "He has taken on the most
innovative habitat projects I have ever seen,"
Mr. Van Putten said. "He has done more for habitat protection than anyone
I can think of. "The most significant
contribution he has brought has been his irrepressible vision and his commitment
to creating a sustainable planet. He has a planetary vision."
Critics say environmental groups refuse to criticize Mr. Turner
because of the funding provided by his foundation. While a timber-cutting operation
was under way on one of his ranches in 1998, members of the radical environmental
group EarthFirst instead protested timber cutting on a nearby ranch owned by
Zachary Taylor, said private investigator Barry R. Clausen, who spent a year
undercover at EarthFirst.
He asked a protester why the group did not include take on Mr. Turner, Mr. Clausen
said, and was told: "We
cannot. That's where our money comes from." Mr.
Clausen, author of "Burning Rage,"
an investigation of domestic terrorism, said environmental groups' nickname
for Mr. Turner is "Daddy Greenbucks."
"Ted Turner has canned hunts where you
can shoot a buffalo and drilling in New Mexico and clear-cutting trees and he
never gets protested. And when you ask why, it's because he is one of the biggest
contributors to extremist groups,"
Mr. Clausen said. Rainforest Action Network, which has received nearly a half-million
dollars since 1995 from the Turner Foundation, also avoided protesting Mr. Turner's
But the network joined EarthFirst in protesting Mr. Taylor's logging operation,
which went out of business after the Earth Liberation Front burned down the
purchasing company, U.S. Forest Industries of Medford, Ore. The
Earth Liberation Front is the underground
organization that took credit for the largest act of eco-terrorism in the United
States the Vail Ski Resort fires on Oct. 19, 1998, that destroyed three
buildings and four ski lifts.
Two Turner ranches harvest timber but by doing limited cuts, not clear-cuts,
said Mr. Miller, the Turner Enterprises general manager. A judge last month
blocked a Forest Service plan to salvage timber from destructive wildfires in
2000 even as a Turner ranch began salvaging timber there burned by the same
fires. Mr. Miller said the projects are different because one was on private
property and the other on public property. Mr. Turner's project, he added, is
endorsed by the Nature Conservancy.
"Basically, we recognize that forest
products are necessary to livelihoods in the United States and necessary to
the economy," Mr. Miller said. "What
we have set about doing is to harvest wood products in a sustainable manner
and we are pretty proud in the sustainable way we do our harvest."
Not all environmental groups are willing to side with their high-powered
benefactor. In 1999, a group called New West Research revealed that the federal
government was asked to kill predators on Mr. Turner's 320,000-acre Ladder Ranch
in southern New Mexico. The agreement called for "aerial
gunning" of wild dogs at the Turner
ranch even as the Turner Endangered Species Fund touted a program to reintroduce
the rare Mexican wolf. The latter program put Mr. Turner at odds with New Mexico
neighbors who say the wolves threaten livestock.
Some in Montana and New Mexico say Mr. Turner picks and chooses among species
to create a personal menagerie. Conservation programs to reintroduce rare and
endangered species are conducted on 11 Turner ranches. The species include the
Mexican gray wolf, California condor, Rio Grande chub, Chiricahua leopard frog,
bighorn sheep, aplomado falcon, black-tailed prairie dog, black-footed ferret,
black bear, Mexican spotted owl and red-cockaded woodpecker.
"He brings endangered species onto his
private property which is his own business but it does have an
impact on his neighbors," said Caren
Cowen, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. "On
the one hand he brings in all of these endangered species, but on the other
hand they hunt on their ranches. The two don't meet in my mind very well"...
"In addition, he gives a lot of money
to radical environmentalists who are trying to put us out of business,"
Miss Cowan said.
"When you dig a little deeper there
is always another side to the story," said
Mr. Miller, the Turner spokesman. "If
environmental groups are not criticizing Mr. Turner's operations, it is because
there is nothing to criticize"...
"I can't refute criticism or ties to
funding, but what we've tried to show is there is nothing to criticize."
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