El regreso de la tortuga grande

 

Updated 8/19/12

The bolson tortoise was extinct. Or at least it was supposed to be. Then, in 1959, wildlife biologists stumbled upon an area in northern Mexico where the locals were watering chickens from the empty shells of “tortuga grande,” or the bolson tortoise. The small, resident population was enough to seed a revival of the species. But it hasn’t been the feds or even the states leading the tortoises' comeback. It’s a media mogul. Last week, the Ted Turner Endangered Species Fund celebrated the 100th bolson tortoise hatchling with their partners at the Carlsbad Living Desert Zoo. The tortoise and the Pleistocene persist.

Which is great, but it got me to thinking: What does a billionaire like Ted Turner have to do with restoring endangered species? Wasn’t he supposed to be drilling into their shells for something lucrative to sell

?

It turns out that Turner owns 2.1 million acres of land across Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas and the Southeast. He employs wildlife biologists who are attempting to repopulate Western ecosystems with endangered species like the black-footed ferret, Chiricahua leopard frog, Aplomado falcon and the Mexican gray wolf.

Now, Turner and a group of ultra-rich cohorts believe they can do even more for the wild, and they’re consorting with minds like Michael Soule – godfather of conservation biology. Soule happens to live across the street from me, so I went over to ask him about Turner and endangered species.

“Have you ever seen that Coen Brother’s film where the guy goes around killing people?” Soule asked me.

“Fargo?” I said. Sure, with that funny looking guy.

“Not that one. No Country For Old Men. Well we think this is 'no place for wildlife.'"

It turns out that Soule is meeting this week with a coterie of billionaires and conservationists and biologists and land managers at Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, which straddles the border of Colorado and New Mexico, to pioneer an agreement for the Western Landowners Network. This group is attempting to do what the Forest Service and BLM can’t: protect ecosystems and biodiversity fast without a lot of political wrangling.

“We’re saying, for now, forget about public lands. Private lands are more flexible. They’re less driven by politicians, and private land owners are free to do what they want. This could be the salvation of a lot of wildlife in the West,” said Soule.

Oil, gas, timber, mining and ranching dominate the activity on public lands, said Soule. Presidents – and wannabe presidents - eagerly demonstrate their friendliness toward industry by sacrificing ecosystems for short-term profits. Soule and the Western Landowners Network want to show that intelligence and patience can engineer profitable, conservation-minded landscapes. However, their lands will be a place where nature comes first.

Another billionaire conservationist, Louis Bacon, who will be meeting with Turner and Soule, agreed to put 90,000 acres of land into a conservation easement with the Department of Interior, in June, as part of a larger corridor of private easements and public lands through the San Luis Valley and central Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Hansjorg Wyss’ $35 million donation to the Montana Legacy Project helped conserve over 300,000 acres of prime timberland. Billionaires from the candy industry and finance have started connecting blocks of grasslands on the High Plains to return bison to their homeland. In this way, private landowners can exemplify what real conservation looks like as a way of shaming federal agencies into giving nature better priority on public lands.

And if they’re not shamed, perhaps enough landowners will conserve enough habitat for species to do without them.

Neil LaRubbio is an editorial fellow at High Country News. His Twitter handle is @VictorAntonin.

Photo provided by New Mexico State Parks.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...