Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ted Turner

Ted Turner is a polarizing figure in Montana, most folks either love him or hate him. He's a rich and powerful man who owns some prime Big Sky real estate, his private holdings scattered throughout the country make him the largest individual landowner in the nation. Every acre of his empire is gated and locked - shielding him from the unwashed masses. It is that very fact that draws the ire of many Montanans. Yet Ted Turner is doing nothing differently in regard to public access than are thousands of other private land owners across the state, and throughout the U.S. for that matter.

It's his land, to do with what he pleases. And what he is doing with his land is interesting: he's creating native fish and wildlife sanctuaries - with an eye toward both conservation and profitability.

A project to restore native westslope cutthroat trout on his massive Flying D Ranch in southwest Montana created quite a stir last summer. The project restored 65+ miles of the Cherry Creek drainage for westslope cutts. The angling public wasn't exactly thrilled about a large scale (est. $500,000) restoration project on private land (with no public access) involving Trout Unlimited and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that fisheries biologists botched the application of pisticide in the creek (a Madison River tributary), resulting in massive, unintended trout die-offs downstream from the project area.

And so it was with great interest that I read a feature article in the current issue of TROUT magazine titled, "Ted and Trout". The article discusses the man's, "Quest to create native trout strongholds in the west." The Cherry Creek project was certainly in that vein, and effectively resulted in a ten-fold increase in the amount of occupied westslope cutthroat habitat in the upper Missouri River Basin. That's significant and should be applauded, as should the fact that Turner picked up the vast majority of the tab for the project.

It's highly unlikely that you or I will ever have an opportunity to fish for westslope cutthroat on Turner's Flying D Ranch. Even so, this project benefits us - as anglers - by helping to solidify the viability of westslope cutthroat in Montana, both now and into the future.


  1. I've never had a problem with Mr. Turner - in fact, his philanthropy to our area extends far beyond fisheries. I think he does good things with his money (more than most with that amount would). Sure would like to toss a line in "the Butler", tho.
    I do have a slight beef with the article and other press releases from FWP regarding fish restoration - they conveniently omit the fish-kill that you mentioned. I just wish they'd tell the whole story.

  2. Interesting, and the issue of MFWP helping with the funding does raise some questions. In essence it's someone saying "I'll help restore native trout, and I'll benefit from it, but you'll never see or experience it. Thanks for the help." Were it not for Mr. Turner's considerable outlay in trying to overturn Montana's stream access laws, I might feel different.
    Mr. Turner certainly has philanthropic projects, nothing of the scale of Bill Gates, but admirable in their own right. This, however, does not make me a fan.

  3. Maybe I wasn't clear about the source of funding for this project. I haven't seen any figures, but I'm led to believe that Turner did fund the bulk of this project.

    In theory, we will benefit from this project. For one thing it will help to keep the westslope cutt from gaining protection under the Endangered Species Act - a move that would have the potential to curtail fishing opportunities in particular watersheds (much like bull trout). Secondly, it provides a solid stock of wild, pure strain cutts that can be called upon for future restoration on public waters.

    As far as I know, the rumors about Turner opposing MT's stream access laws are just that, rumors.

  4. The streams on Turner's land are not off limits to the public - just gotta hike within the high-water mark. With a little effort, you can see and experience it.

  5. I wasn't going to bring that up...

    With a little (ok, a lot of) work, the upper end of the Cherry Creek watershed is accessible - it lies on National Forest land. So, in fact, the public has access to the westslope cutthroat that this project re-introduced to the drainage.