Millionaire's Land Grab Generates Suspicion

MULLEN, Neb. (AP) _ Ted Turner has amassed two million acres over the past two decades to become the largest private landowner in the country.

The CNN founder owns land in 11 states, with most of his holdings in New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota. He is restoring buffalo, cutthroat trout, wolves, black-footed ferrets and other flora and fauna that filled the Plains before the West was won.

His front men say their boss doesn't have a secret agenda. They say he just wants to be a rancher. But each big buy only heightens the anxiety and gives rise to conspiracy theories.

Some fear Turner is bent on putting Nebraska ranchers and farmers out of business. Others hold that he is trying to corner the land over the Ogallala Aquifer, the world's largest underground water system, to gain power in the water-starved West.

Some believe he is scheming, perhaps with the United Nations, to create a vast wildlife refuge and turn it over to the federal government, removing the land from Nebraska's tax rolls.

Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, a Turner offshoot, insists his boss is just a "doggone serious rancher,'' though one dedicated to preserving the environment.

Turner owns the largest buffalo herd in the country, 45,000 strong. Many of them are on the 425,000 acres he owns in Nebraska.

Turner's spokesmen say the driving force behind Turner's land purchases is the desire to make money.

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