Neighbors wary about Turner motives

Thursday, November 29, 2007

There's an apocryphal story about a Vietnam veteran in Montana who welcomed Ted Turner into his steakhouse, but turned away his then-wife, Jane Fonda for her anti-war activities.

Ted and Jane have long parted ways, but now some westerners are wondering how welcome Ted Turner should be.

Among them is Duane Kime, who was outbid by about $100,000 for a neighboring ranch, and now finds his ranch near Mullen three-fourths surrounded by Turner land.

The media mogul and largest individual landowner in North America, Turner now owns 425,221 acres in Nebraska, as well as more than a million acres in New Mexico and another 414,000 or so in Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado.

Turner just wants to be a rancher, according to his representatives. He owns 45,000 buffalo, many of them in Nebraska, and slaughters them to serve in more than 50 Ted's Montana Grill restaurants across the country. And, he offers week-long elk hunting excursions at $12,000 each in New Mexico.

While Turner officials say he just wants to preserve animal habitat while ranching, others see something more ominous, like an attempt to corner water from the Ogallala Aquifer, or scheming with the United Nations to create a huge wildlife refuge.

The concerns are not unwarranted. The executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, Mike Phillips, used to work with the Wildlands Project, an environmental group that wants to create a continent-wide network of nature preserves to save endangered species.

The whole thing should sound familiar to Southwest Nebraskans, who remember when Drs. Frank and Deborah Popper of Rutgers University proposed the "Buffalo Commons" back in 1987.

They were understandably outraged over any proposal that would further depopulate the Plains and reduce the tax base that supports our schools and infrastructure.

To be sure, there is something to be said for turning marginal irrigated land back into more sustainable uses such as wildlife habitat and grassland for cattle and, yes, even buffalo.

But the decision to do so should be made by the people who live there, and not an outsider with a bigger checkbook.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: