A Media Mogul and Working Landscape Architect

Ted Turner is the largest private landowner in the United States. This media billionaire (owner of TBS, CNN, TNT, the Cartoon Network) owns nearly two million acres of ranchland in Florida, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, and South Dakota. His landscapes look a lot like well-preserved national parks and contain mountains, rivers, prairie, plants, and animals. He reintroduces native species of endangered animals and restores the land's ecology. Turner's philosophy is simple: The best tribute to the land is the condition it's left in. Turner also is out to prove that protecting ecosystems and turning a profit can happen together.

Protecting the environment does not mean a private landowner cannot make a profit off the land. Turner raises bison, often mistakenly called buffalo, on their native range. This is so ecologically sound and profitable that Turner has created the largest herd in the world. Bison are native to prairie grass landscapes. They don't overgraze and cause erosion. They're also disease resistant, have no natural enemies, and can survive severe weather and severe land conditions. Bison are leaner, lower in calories and cholesterol, and higher in protein than beef. And many people think bison taste good too!

Turner opens his land to the public for hunting and fishing. These activities generate revenue and reduce the population of certain animals, like elk, deer, and antelope. (Eventually natural predators, like wolves and cougars, will be reintroduced.) Turner reintroduces a number of other non-game species and endangered native plants to his lands. The reintroduction of plants and animals works toward reestablishing the native ecosystem's biodiversity.

He takes other steps to make his property ecologically sound, including looking at how his actions affect water quality. He plants shrubs, cottonwoods, and willows along streams to protect banks from erosion. He reintroduces fire as a grassland and forest management tool. Turner sees his environmental practices as contributing to the health of not only his land, but also the larger ecosystem his land is a part of. But even Turner isn't a perfect landowner. His land was overrun with leafy green spurge, a weed. Chemicals were used to kill the spurge, but Turner hopes to find alternatives to herbicides.

Most of Turner's neighbors enjoy a positive relationship with him; however, some disagree with his environmental philosophy. These neighbors don't see the need for restored ecosystems and are suspicious of environmental agendas. They think he's wasting his money. Others disagree with his practices. Neighboring ranchers don't like Turner's predators (wolves and cougars) living right next door to their cattle.

Some praise Turner saying his is the most exciting work being done in conservation. His critics aren't impressed, saying it's easy to be environmentally sensitive when you have a bottomless bank account. Either way, Turner is private landowner who is actively addressing the issues faced by a working landscape.

Explore More

Scientific American.com features an article on Ted Turner and his work to reintroduce animals edged out of ecoystems by development.

Explore More: Working Landscapes
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.