Ted Turner working to save environment
Billionaire working on population, nuclear weapons issues too
OMAHA, Neb. — Managing 2 million acres of ranchland and running a restaurant chain serve as diversions for billionaire Ted Turner.
These days the 69- yearold who founded Atlantabased CNN spends most of his time trying to solve the world’s problems by working with his three foundations to protect the environment, stabilize the world’s population and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
“ That’s a pretty big agenda, don’t you think?” Turner said from a table in his restaurant in Omaha Thursday.
Turner visited Omaha to rename his 4- year- old restaurant as Ted’s Nebraska Grill, but Turner discussed a number of topics in an interview. The Omaha restaurant is the only one of the 54 in the chain that is not called Ted’s Montana Grill.
The Omaha restaurant will feature beef from Omaha Steaks and bison from Turner’s own herd, and whenever possible the restaurant will use other items from Nebraska companies.
If the name change succeeds, Turner said he may change the name of some of the other Ted’s restaurants.
Turner said he feels like he has made some progress on the problems that he has invested $ 1.5 billion of his own fortune in solving, but more could be done.
“ The more the press covers these stories, the more people become aware of it, and the more action’s taken,” Turner said.
The recent coverage of global warming that began with Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” has been encouraging, Turner said, but he wishes the media would pay more attention to that topic and to nuclear proliferation concerns.
“ The nuclear situation is very, very complex,” he said. “And the media, unfortunately, I don’t think are covering it nearly as prominently as they should.”
Turner said he hopes reporters will ask the presidential candidates more about what they would do to stop the spread of nuclear weapons now that there are fewer candidates.
The risks of what could happen if terrorists obtained a nuclear bomb are simply too great to ignore, Turner said.
“ If a bomb goes off, there will be millions killed,” he said. “ The World Trade Center thing would look like a stroll in the park.”
Turner said he thinks any one of the top three presidential candidates — Republican John McCain and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — would bring welcome change to the nation’s policies on global warming. Turner said he hasn’t picked a favorite candidate yet.
“ We need to elect the best person this time,” he said. “ Because on global warming and the nuclear issues we’re running out of time. We need to take action.”
Turner said he doesn’t have any secret plans for the 2 million acres of land he owns in 11 states and Argentina.
“ I’m running 50,000 bison. I needed the land to expand the bison herd,” Turner said. “ That’s really the reason I bought so much land.”
So, Turner said his neighbors should quit worrying that he might be trying to corner the land over the Ogallala Aquifer or that he might turn the land into a huge tax- exempt wildlife refuge.
Turner said neither of those are in his plans. But he did say the land will eventually go to the Turner Foundation after his death, and it won’t be developed.
Owning the land has been good to Turner because it because it helped protect his fortune.
“ I thought land was a pretty good value, and it was a chance to diversify my investment,” Turner said. “ Thank God I did too because AOL- Time Warner went down 80 percent, which I had the bulk of my investment in. But the land went up in value.”
Turner said he doesn’t plan to make any more large purchases of land, but he may buy some property that adjoins his ranches if he can get a good price.
Turner’s biggest land holdings are in New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota.
Turner has encouraged prairie dogs to flourish on his land, reintroduced swift foxes and cutthroat trout, and he is working on a plan to help restore the endangered black- footed ferret to the prairie.
His restaurants, which feature bison meat, also reflect Turner’s environmental concerns by using biodegradable hand soap, compact fluorescent light bulbs, to- go cups made from corn starch and other measures.
“ I think it’s really important to do the right thing if you can afford to do it,” Turner said. “And even if you can’t afford to do it, it’s still probably best to do the right thing if you can figure out a way to do it. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“ We work a little harder to try and be better citizens.”