The 113,613-acre Flying D Ranch in southwest Montana is a working ranch that is managed for the production of bison and wildlife, and is part of a bigger conservation effort as well. This approach ensures that populations of grazing animals like mule deer, elk, moose and antelope, are managed alongside predators such as the gray wolf, black bear, and mountain lions. Majestic birds of prey such as golden and bald eagles are drawn to the area, with upland game birds and a plethora of migratory waterfowl also coursing seasonally through the Flying D, situated in the Central Flyway.
The man with the grand plan behind the Flying D Ranch is American entrepreneur, media mogul, and philanthropist Ted Turner. What’s more, he stood his ground and saved this land when commercial developments began swallowing large tracts of Montana’s foothills and flatlands, when industrial interests felled forests thick with lofty mountain pines in that part of the state, when cows were replaced by condos.
Turner had the vision and the means to spare the historic Flying D Ranch on the northern edge of Gallatin Canyon from such a fate. The Flying D’s story is of hardworking, thick-skinned cowboys; of enormous herds of cattle grazing over verdant grasslands next to the towering, snow-capped Spanish Peaks Mountains. The waters that flow through Flying D, the Gallatin and Madison Rivers, are home to numerous species of trout. To live — indeed to thrive, the fish must have a watery habitat that is clear, unadulterated, and fast-flowing, and these two rivers and the streams they feed can only remain viable if there’s rain and if there are protectors: environmentalists, people who enforce state fish and wildlife programs, and people who get it, like Ted Turner.
Yes, Ted Turner gets it. His ranch house is palatial, as you’d expect, though it blends into the landscape in ways that, by now, you also hopefully expect — because the thing that he truly gets is that he is a self-appointed custodian of this large corner of God’s green earth, and that speaks volumes about the man and his plan. At least, on his watch, and tomorrow, and through his lifetime, Turner is caretaking the land for the generations that follow. Being a philanthropist is a gift; being a custodian is a calling. And of the two, the latter is greater.