Thursday, June 28, 2007

Buy Land, God Ain't Making Any More of That

Will Rogers advised folks to "Buy land because God ain't making any more of that," and some of the richest folks in America are following up on that sage advice and scooping up vast areas in the U.S. for a variety of reasons.

The Wall Street Journal of May 20th, for example, notes that Kentucky native Brad Kelley sold his cigarette manufacturing company, Commonwealth Brands Inc., for $1 billion and promptly bought hundreds of thousands of acres of West Texas ranch land back in 2001. He has also snapped up 60,000 acres of land near Sarasota, Florida where he breeds antelope and critically endangered anoa, a type of wild miniature water buffalo native to Indonesia.

Over in Texas, Inc. founder Jeff Bezos has acquired several ranches that total 300,000 arid acres, some of which he is using to test a developmental vehicle for his space-flight company, Blue Origin LLC.

Up in Maine, Roxanne Quimby, who is the co-founder of "Burt's Bees" cosmetics, has acquired about 80,000 acres from timber companies. She hopes to add even more acreage in the years ahead before she turns the whole thing over to the Federal Government as a new National Park.

Some Maine residents are up in arms because Ms. Quimby has said the land she has bought is now off-limits to all logging, hunting and motorized vehicles. Of course, as the actual owner of the land in question Ms. Quimby is well within her rights, and besides her management rules are pretty similar to those that now govern our National Parks. America in general -- and Maine in particular -- can only benefit from the creation of another National Park. Instead of criticism, Ms. Quimby deserves a little applause!

The nation's largest private landowner, of course, is the wonderfully colorful Ted Turner whose acquisitions include 15 ranches in seven Western states spread over a total of about 2 million acres.

Ted Turner and his son Beau are true hook-and-bullet conservationists and are engaged in some of the best wildlife and wild lands management in this nation.

Turner's land goal has always been to show that environmentally-sensitive lands can be managed at a profit, and so far he has done remarkable things while working to prove his point.

Turner's properties are now home to about 45,000 bison, which are managed as free-range commercial livestock with the meat sold as steaks and burgers through both grocery stores and Turner's restaurant chain, Ted's Montana Grill.

Turner's vast land holdings are also home to elk, moose, mule deer, white tail deer and some other species which are hunted at a price, making a profit for the ranch and ensuring that Turner's large wild land holdings remain well-maintained and well-managed.

Ted Turner has also moved his vision of profitable wild lands management overseas to vast land holdings he has in South America. Some of this land turns a profit as cattle and hunting ranches, and some turns a profit through eco-tourism, but the principles are the same in both in the U.S. and overseas: Keep the land green and balanced, work to preserve wildlife and wild and open spaces, and remain creative in developing an income stream to keep the whole thing self-financing beyond the initial capital outlay. This is not the rip-rape-ruin-and subdivide management of Mobile Oil and small-time land owners. A larger vision and a larger lasting purpose is in action here.

Some narrow-minded folks resent the philanthropic super-wealthy, but in fact some of these truely rich people represent not only business success, but also a deep transformative social and environmental consciousness that is a powerful force for good.

When the dust settles, a lot of America and the world will be protected because of the actions of folks like Ted Turner, Jeff Bezos, Brad Kelley, Roxanne Quimby, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.

God bless them for turning their enormous purses to the public good. And what a shame that the Walton family (of WalMart fame) cannot do the same!

The Land Report lists the top 100 private land owners in the U.S. (list searchable by state, by name or by acreage. The Top Twenty from the list is appended below, and a short profile on each of the top 100 land owners can be read >> HERE. For the record, 640 acres is one square mile.

1. Ted Turner - 2 million acres
2. Archie Aldis 'Red' Emmerson - 1.722 million acres
3. Irving Family 1.2 million acres
4. Singleton Family - 1 million + acres
5. King Ranch Heirs - 851,642 acres
6. Pingree Heirs - 850,000 acres
7. Brad Kelley - 789,851 acres
8. Reed Family - 770,000 acres
9. Ford Family - 740,000 acres
10. Huber Family - 600,000 acres
11. Lykes Bros. Heirs - 578,302 acres
12. Dolph Briscoe Jr. - 560,000 acres
13. W.T. Waggoner Estate - 520,000 acres
14. D.M. O'Connor Heirs - 500,000 acres
15. Robert Earl Holding - 400,000 acres
16. J.R. Simplot - 355,746 acres
17. East Family - 350,000 acres
18. Anne Marion - 345,000 acres
19. Gerald Lyda - 320,035 acres
20. Collins Family - 305,313 acres



Anonymous said...

I would do the same thing if I had their kind of money. I applaud them too.

Jerry said...

Certainly private land owners have done a lot for conservation, and should be applauded.

But unfortunately, some property rights extremists use their success to argue for an end to public ownership of land, and non-fee access by the public.

I wonder what it would take to bring the environmental quality of public lands up to the same level as these private lands?