On the list of Americans who own the most land, media mogul Ted Turner has been No. 1 or No. 2 for much of the last couple decades. His two-million acres (more than three times the size of the entire state of Rhode Island) are primarily ranches in the western U.S. To put these lands to work, Turner has become the world’s largest fosterer of bison. One out of every nine bison living today wanders on his land. Largely on his own, Turner has created a thriving national market for bison meat, sold at groceries like Whole Foods and at his Ted’s Montana Grill restaurant chain. Bison is lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein than beef, and the hardy animals require much less husbandry. And keeping them afield has been a highly effective way of maintaining scenic Western lands in fruitful use.
Turner also opens his ranches every year to hunters willing to pay approximately $12,000 each to stalk trophy elk, and he has a fishing program on some properties too. Along with his environmental businesses, Turner’s philanthropy has frequently focused on balancing economic usages of nature with conservation (as in his giving to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition). It is estimated that Turner has so far spent more than $1.5 billion on nature philanthropy. In 1997 he created the Turner Endangered Species Fund to protect imperiled species and habitat on his own land, and to “bring the role of private lands to the forefront of ecological conservation.” Its current projects focus on nine creatures: Aplomado falcon, black-footed ferret, Bolson tortoise, Chiricahua leopard frog, Mexican wolf, prairie dogs, red-cockaded woodpecker, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and Westslope cutthroat trout.