Ted Turner and the Trout
Story by Jonathan Lee Wright
Ted Turner bought the Vermejo Park Ranch because Yellowstone and Yosemite were already taken. The comparison is a fair one, as it is an achingly beautiful landscape, with sprawling forests of Lodgepole Pine and Ponderosa giving way to grassy natural parks at the higher elevations. Above it all, far above the tree line, stand snowy alpine peaks tearing against the thin clouds that skate over the southern Rockies.
Vermejo Park Ranch is the largest contiguous parcel of private land in the continental United States, bigger than both Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain national parks combined. Covering over 590,000 acres that straddle the boundaries New Mexico and Colorado — and the crest of the 13,000’ Sangre de Cristo mountain range above Taos — the ranch encompasses not only a broad swath of property, but alsobiology. From high desert range to alpine tundra, the in holding represents a unique and irreplaceable gene bank. Recognizing this, Turner purchased the ranch in 1996 with an intent of restoring the ecology of the property to act as a preserve for native species, a concept to which he is deeply committed—his work in rebuilding populations of North American Bison on his numerous real estate holdings across the West is
widely recognized, and in 2012, Turner was awarded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Champion Award for conservation.
Paralleling the efforts of government agencies and partnering with them at the project execution level, the privately funded Turner organization has largely been able to sidestep the bureaucratic boondoggles that can hamstring the use of public moneys. In an era where public lands and native species are losing ground under withering legislative assaults, the partnership between state and federal agencies and the Turner organization has proven to be a win for all involved. The upshot of this provides a clear—and likely unpopular—conclusion for traditional conservationists: large private inholdings managed as sustainable commercial enterprises are a key component in the protection of the last remaining wildlands in this country It could very well be that the Ted Turners and other global scale philanthropists of the world will be the saviors of critically endangered species.