Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

An Evening with Ted Turner

I’ve been quiet on this blog over the last few days because I’m holed up at Big Sky, Montana, attending an environmental policy conference. (In fact, I’m blogging now from a bar that has a wireless hot spot, so I may have more typoes than usual).

The culmination of the conference was a tour this afternoon of Ted Turner’s 112,000 acre bison ranch near here, followed by dinner at Ted’s barn and remarks from Ted. Turner is the largest individual private landowner in the nation, owning a total of 2 million acres in 11 states. Here in Montana and elsewhere he is engaged in a determined effort to restore natural habitat for bison and other endangered species, for which he deserves applause.

But of course I’ve always thought he was something of a barking loon, and he did not disappoint in his remarks. He said that he thinks mankind may only have 50 years left to survive, which is typical Malthusian/enviro apocalypticism. When told he was speaking to a mostly conservative group, he said he considered himself a "progressive" (not a liberal), but that his very anti-communist father had warned him in the 1940s that when the Communists took over America they’d shoot anyone with more than $50, "So for 30 years I went around with never more than $49 in my wallet."

On the whole he was hilarious. When a prominent conservative philanthropist whom I shall not name asked him to rank his greatest innovations, he simply ran through a laundry list--CNN, Goodwill Games, his anti-nuke proliferation efforts, his eco-ranches. But then he added:

"And I married Jane Fonda. That was innovative. . . Any more on that innovation and I’d be getting into private details."

Hard not to warm up to a guy like that. He served us barbecued bison ribs from his own herd. Actually the guy is a bit of a shell of his former self. He is land rich but cash-poor with the collapse of his Time-Warner holdings, a fact he alluded to repeatedly with some bitterness (toward Time-Warner) and sarcasm. In fact he has had to cut back on his grantmaking to left wing organizations and the UN, which isn’t all bad. He no longer has any role with CNN (so we can’t blame him for that any more).

Now back to the beach in California and a regular blogging schedule.

Discussions - 11 Comments

I used to love the guy before he became a raving lunatic. As for being broke, he has only himself to blame. What kind of IDIOT donates a $1BILLION to the United Nations? When I think of all the OTHER things that money could have accomplished....

Slow to write, but I find his enivronmental comments interesting in that he has leased out his Vermejo Ranch in NE New Mexico for oil and gas development (hundreds of gas wells have been drilled). I guess cash flow problems trump enviromentalism when its YOU’RE cash flow.....

Hey Bunny Slippers, what did you mean when you said that you guess "cash flow problems trump environmentalism when its YOU’RE cash flow"? You do realize, of course, that "you’re" is the contraction for "you are," which makes no sense in this context. Just wanted to make sure you knew!

Yeah, B.S., it is at least simpler to skip the environmentalism pretense, a la Bush, and move straight to the cash flow...

Oh I know...It’s sooo offensive when one man uses his money and property for a cause he believes in, and then commits other parts of it to make money. What a moral quagmire!


Wait...on second thought, maybe it’s ok for a person to do what he pleases with his property, and maybe private philanthropy requires money.


No, nevermind, any money he needs can be got through the government, so this is a perfect example of the camel and the eye of the needle.

Fred, I think your conversion to the Right is incomplete. The point about Turner and the UN is that is was a stupid waste of his money...very little of that money actually helped anyone but bureaucrats and corrupt politicians around the world. Moreover, his environmental stance and his actual actions are incongruent...they call that hypocrisy. That was Bunny Slippers’ point.

Dain, I understand Bunny Slippers’ point. I don’t think Turner’s actions are either incongruent or hyocritical. I wasn’t addressing your comment about donating to the UN. I wouldn’t do it, but if he chooses to, so be it. Just b/c I don’t agree with his actions doesn’t mean he is not entitled to do with his property as he pleases.


I was criticizing Bunny Slippers and J Montgomery because (at least J Montgomery) they imply that Turner’s concern with the environment only exists when he has the money to support it, and is gone when he doesn’t. They act as if that is a self-evident moral contradiction. I do not think it is.

"Just b/c I don’t agree with his actions doesn’t mean he is not entitled to do with his property as he pleases."

So, if he would want to clearcut every tree on every acre and make it America’s largest cattle ranch, would that be okay by you? If he wanted to install a dam to make his own hydroelectric power, would that be ok?

In a word, yes.


Can certain things be protected? Of course. By the government? yes. So if an endangered species’ last habitat was on his land could he terribly alter it? I don’t know.


Specifics are always difficult to get into Danielle. It requires quite a bit of particular knowledge (more than what I have). I think we can work from basic principles, however, and those principles are laid out in the Declaration and Constitution. So, before we go the route of specifics, let’s ask:


Does man have rights in his property? yes.

If your question was in general (in regards to all land and not just his property) then the answer is no. The qualification to "do as he pleases" would be ownership of course.

A few further comments. Turner’s Montana ranch that I visited is under a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy (so he did get a nice tax break for that, though the valuation was rather low), and the NC supervises his management of the land, down to the trees he may cut or not cut, and native grasses, etc. He has a full-time biologist onsite who supervises restoration of riparian lands, restoring native species of fish to the streams, etc. This seems a much better use of his money than the UN, which is why I said Turner should be praised in my original post, even if he does believe in the Malthusian whim-wham.

As for the gas drilling on his New Mexico ranch, this merely follows the example of the Audubon Society, which allows oil and gas production on its Rainey Wildlife Preserve in Louisiana, even as it opposes all oil and gas exploration in ANWR. Lesson: when it’s your land and not public land, you have to internalize all the incentives and disincentives. You can call it hypocrisy if you want; I call it an argument for privatizing more public land. As I’ve said before, give ANWR to the Wilderness Society, and watch then tear themselves up debating how much good they could do elsewhere with the revenue from oil and gas drilling in ANWR. Or not.

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