Original article can be found at New West Development
Originally published on September 29,2010
By Allen Best, Guest Writer
You can see how Ted Turner might be a handful. Patty Limerick, the noted historian of the American West, interviewed him on Tuesday morning, and for awhile it was uncertain whether she would get a question in edgewise. Limerick, who can parse and parry with the best of them, rarely has that problem.
In Boulder to receive the Wallace Stegner Award from the Center of the American West, Turner talked about the slaughter of bison, the appalling use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and his philosophy on winning.
A billionaire several times over by the late 1990s, Turner said he had spent little time in the West until in his 40s. When in places like Denver, he was mostly in hotels. But he bought a 1,000-acre ranch in Montana, got bison and, as the bison herd expanded, he decided he needed to buy more land.
“I just fell in love with it,” said Turner, of the West. He now has 2 million acres in seven states, mostly in the West, and is the largest individual land owner in North America. His 25,000 bison rank him No. 2 in the nation – next to the federal government.
Turner delivered plenty of crowd-pleasing lines. “What in the hell were we thinking?” he asked at one point, after observing that North America’s 30 million bison were reduced to just 200 by the late 19th century.
He occasionally had the audience laughing. “I wrote the book so I wouldn’t have to answer these questions,” he responded when Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board for the center, asked him a question about his balance as a landowner.
Limerick’s question was a good one – an eternal one, really. She wanted to know what guided his thinking in appraising his land for its beauty but also as an economic proposition.
Turner didn’t really answer. But he did vent, as is his habit.
About global warming: “If I was a young person, I’d be screaming like crazy.”
About using the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam: “You don’t dump poison on other people unless you’re nuts.”
And on winning – in baseball and life: “I will not surrender. I have lots of flags in my pack, but I don’t have any white flags.”
Yet why did he sit down with Rupert Murdoch, his media rival? “I was sick of fighting, and it wasn’t doing any good anyway.” U.S. foreign policy might better adopt such an approach, he said.
He allowed that for all of mankind’s dismal record, it still tilts to the positive. It is, after all, the species that produced the Mona Lisa and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, he said.
Presenting him with a plaque, Limerick announced that “despite an error of birth, you have made yourself a leading Westerner.”