Scientists, in fact, call this a glimpse into "rewilding." As a private citizen, Turner's prominence in the movement of rewilding—given his two million private acres of land, second most of any citizen in the US— is unmatched. Indeed, his portfolio of properties serving as havens for imperiled species has earned him a reputation as a kind of modern-day Noah.
TESF has been a major force in influencing the way conservation is approached in America by building public-private partnerships. And it has attracted attention around the world, in some ways borrowing from NASA's mantra of "faster, better, cheaper." The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently called it a "Recovery Champion." "Recovery Champions are helping listed species get to the point at which they are secure in the wild and no longer need Endangered Species Act protection," the Fish and Wildlife Service's national director Dan Ashe said.
Phillips, a former Fish and Wildlife field man who helped bring wolves back to Yellowstone National Park, notes that government agencies can be well intended but they are challenged by bureaucratic regulation that prevents them from being light on their feet. In recent decades, government wildlife officials also have been paralyzed by lawsuits brought by both environmental organizations and resource extraction groups.
As Ashe of the Fish and Wildlife Service notes, some of Turner's ranches figure prominently at the center of a strategy to recover icons, including wolves in the Rockies, red-cockaded woodpeckers in the Southeast, Chiricahua leopard frogs, bighorn sheep and bolson tortoises in the desert Southwest, and the rarest land mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret.
Black-footed ferrets were once written off as extinct. But by reestablishing prairie dogs—animals that ferrets need to survive on his lands and allowing government to have a ferret captive breeding facility on his land—Turner is providing four of the ten venues the Fish and Wildlife Service says it will take to achieve a minimum baseline of biological recovery.
For Turner, being an avowed "eco-capitalist" is about having a corporate social consciousness. His intent, he says, is to challenge the misguided perception that species preservation comes at the expense of prosperity and human livelihoods. He calls it a false dichotomy. He has heard fellow property owners charge that having endangered species on their land will run them out of business or impinge their liberty. And there is also a widely held view among environmentalists, he says, that unless government steps in and protects species from extinction, many animals will not survive.
"I am committed to proving them wrong," he says. "Species survival should not have to depend on public lands or private lands. An animal should not have to die or live or be considered important depending on whether it's on the Endangered Species list. That's wrongheaded. Conservation isn't a choice between nature and prosperity. It's a combination of both, put together."
Notes E. O. Wilson, who has visited Turner's flagship ranch in Montana, the Flying D, which has all of the major large mammals that existed there millennia ago, "Out of his many achievements, the most important may be the proof that capitalism and environmentalism can be joined to major humanitarian effect."
Back at Turner's ranch house, he meets with Bad River manager Tom LeFaive. A jolly man and a biologist by training, LeFaive asks Turner to speculate on when he might finally declare mission accomplished with his prairie dog proliferation project. Ranchers in the area who despise the critters have been wondering. They don't want to be the recipients of Ted's animals spilling over onto their land—especially animals they've spent so much money and heritage trying to annihilate.