Howling in Aspen

Ted Turner is interviewed by  Sally Rainey at the American Renewable Energy Day.

Ted Turner is interviewed by Sally Ranney at the American Renewable Energy Day.

Ted Turner howls in Aspen appearance

ASPEN, Colo. – When Ted Turner started buying ranch land in Montana in 1987, there was apprehension among the locals. He was, after all, a big money guy, the founder of CNN and TNT, the baseball team in Atlanta and who knows what else.

But Turner, in his 15 ranches in the West and 3 in Argentina, has turned out to be something other than a money-grubbing ogre. Turner has, argues Todd Wilkinson, in a new book called “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet,” delivered an example for others about how to own land without abusing it.

Both Turner and Wilkinson were on the stage last week in Aspen, at the tail end of a lengthy conference called American Renewable Energy Day. Despite the name, the conference ran four days and included a parade of well-known billionaires, former politicians (including Jimmy Carter), and others gathered to share thoughts about energy and climate change.

Wilkinson, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., near Turner’s 113,613-acre Flying D. Ranch, said he wanted to write a book that delivered the bottom line that business and sustainability aren’t disparate goals. If the business community is not part of the movement, he said, “it will be a lost cause.”LastStandfnl2013cover237

Bison populate the ranches, and Turner explained why. He said that growing up, he learned that 30 million bison at one time grazed on prairies of the American West. In a few decades of the late 19th century, all but a few thousand had died.

Turner said that he remembers thinking, “If I can just make enough money to buy some land when I grow up, I can bring bison back.”

In fact, bison did return from the brink of extinction before Turner made his first billion dollars. But he has helped restore them in greater numbers – while also helping restore some of the over-grazed ranchlands

His trim mustache now as white as the driven snow, as is his hair, he displays a quirky humor. “I’m 75. I can’t remember my grandkids’ names,” he said at one point.

His eldest grandchild, John Seydel, was on stage with him. A student at the University of Denver, Seydel is leading a movement to divest the school’s endowment fund of carbon holdings, including coal, oil and natural gas. That was a major theme in the conference.

Wilkinson, whose book is now going into a paperback printing, a measure of success, at one point noted that the bison provide stability, being more resilient in their interaction with wolves in shared territory than cattle.

To that, Turner tilted his head back and let out a howl. Soon, everybody on stage was howling with him.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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