Ted Turner Bison: Why Does Billionaire Have Yellowstone National Park Bison?

By Philip Ross on May 13, 2013 12:27 PM EDT

ted turner bison
Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park bison herd has about 3,700 individuals, making it the largest (and oldest) public bison herd in the U.S. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Ted Turner will add about 150 Yellowstone National Park bison to his ranch in Montana.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that an agreement between the 74-year-old billionaire and media mogul, who founded CNN, and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, or FWP, will allow Turner to keep federally-owned bison on his private ranch near Bozeman, Mont. Three weeks ago, District Judge Holly Brown ruled that Turner can keep 75 percent of the bison calves born during the five years he has had the bison on his ranch.

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The decision follows a legal battle in which bison advocacy groups sued the FWP over the agreement the department made with Turner. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

The petitioners claimed that FWP violated the public trust in giving disease-free Yellowstone bison to a private person who could use them for private gain. The petitioners include Western Watersheds Project, the Buffalo Field Campaign, the Gallatin Wildlife Association and the Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation.

Under the public trust doctrine, which applies nationwide, the state has the responsibility to manage and maintain resources like water and land for public use and future generations.

The bison is the largest land mammal in North America. The U.S. was once home to tens of millions of bison, which roamed and grazed the plains of North America, from Canada to the central U.S. But hunters and poachers drove them nearly to extinction in the late 19th century, bringing their numbers down to fewer than 50 by the turn of the century, according to NASA. The bison herd at Yellowstone National Park, the U.S.'s first national park, is the largest remaining population of American bison in the U.S.

Through recovery efforts, which began in the early 1900s, the bison population in the U.S. has been returned to near-threatened level. One of the earliest conservation efforts occurred when the Bronx Zoo reintroduced 15 bison, delivered by railway, to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Today, there are roughly 200,000 of them in the U.S. Only about 16,000 of these roam the wild, most of them in Yellowstone.

Turner, who owns 15 ranches across nine different states, including Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota, also owns the largest buffalo herd in the country.

The largest private landowner in the U.S. raises about 50,000 bison on about 2 million acres of land. From AP:

Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, a Turner offshoot, insisted his boss is just a "doggone serious rancher," though one dedicated to preserving the environment.

Others don't think so highly of Turner's bison, or land, fetish. According to AP, some people believe the billionaire is trying to gain control over the world's largest underground water system by buying up all the land on top of it - control the water supply, you control the water-parched West. Also, Turner's ability to outbid his competitors for land is driving up property prices, making it more difficult for other ranchers to expand or maintain their operations.  

Read more from iScience Times:

Bison Attack In Utah; Man 'Lucky' to Survive 1500 Pound Animal Attack

Most Famous Wolf Shot Outside Yellowstone: 832F Was A 'Rock Star' For Animal Watchers

Montana State Study Compares Growth Around Yellowstone, Glacier and Other National Parks

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