Category Archives: Land Grabbing

U.S. town demolished over lead contamination


A sign on the youth soccer field in Picher, Oklahoma April 18, 2006. For 23 years now, the 1,500-plus residents of this historic mining community in northeast Oklahoma have known they were in trouble, trapped by growing evidence that waste from mining operations the area once thrived on was poisoning the air, the water and the land. To match feature Life Oklahoma. REUTERS/Carey Gillam

Reuters | Jan 28, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters Life!) – Most of its residents left, the school closed, the city government was disbanded and starting this week nearly every commercial building in Picher, Oklahoma, will be demolished.

But the owner of the last-remaining open business in Picher, which has been vacated over the years because of lead contamination, is not ready to go.

“It’s not time for me to leave yet,” said Gary Linderman, owner of Old Miner’s Pharmacy in what is left of central Picher, located in the northeast corner of the state.

“I have an obligation to people. We are all creatures of habit and closing might throw them off.”

In addition to providing prescriptions, the pharmacy is the only place left in town to buy snack food, beverages, over-the-counter medicine and other necessities.

Linderman declined a buyout from the federal government, which declared Picher a hazardous waste site in 1981 and has bought out about 900 homeowners and businesses. Crews demolished a funeral home, restaurant, thrift shop, apartment building and other structures this week, with more to come.

Besides lead contamination, Picher has suffered in recent years from sinkholes from old mines that threaten to swallow the community. Three years ago, a tornado destroyed about 150 homes, chasing more people away.

Picher’s population has shrunk from 1,640 in 2000 to only a handful of residents today. The school district and city government dissolved in 2009 and the post office closed.

The town had more than 14,000 residents in the 1920s.

Because of historic significance, a church, mining museum, auction house and a building where mining equipment was sold will remain standing, though they are abandoned. Linderman’s building will be surrounded by vacant lots in what used to be downtown, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m a farm boy,” he said. “I’m used to the wide open spaces.”

African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In

In Beldenadji, Mali, a canal has been extended to irrigate land, part of an American aid initiative. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming.

NY Times |  Dec 21, 2010

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR

SOUMOUNI, Mali — The half-dozen strangers who descended on this remote West African village brought its hand-to-mouth farmers alarming news: their humble fields, tilled from one generation to the next, were now controlled by Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the farmers would all have to leave.

“They told us this would be the last rainy season for us to cultivate our fields; after that, they will level all the houses and take the land,” said Mama Keita, 73, the leader of this village veiled behind dense, thorny scrubland. “We were told that Qaddafi owns this land.”

Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come.

Organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it.

But others condemn the deals as neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations.

“The food security of the country concerned must be first and foremost in everybody’s mind,” said Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, now working on the issue of African agriculture. “Otherwise it is straightforward exploitation and it won’t work. We have seen a scramble for Africa before. I don’t think we want to see a second scramble of that kind.”

A World Bank study released in September tallied farmland deals covering at least 110 million acres — the size of California and West Virginia combined — announced during the first 11 months of 2009 alone. More than 70 percent of those deals were for land in Africa, with Sudan, Mozambique and Ethiopia among those nations transferring millions of acres to investors.

Before 2008, the global average for such deals was less than 10 million acres per year, the report said. But the food crisis that spring, which set off riots in at least a dozen countries, prompted the spree. The prospect of future scarcity attracted both wealthy governments lacking the arable land needed to feed their own people and hedge funds drawn to a dwindling commodity.

“You see interest in land acquisition continuing at a very high level,” said Klaus Deininger, the World Bank economist who wrote the report, taking many figures from a Web site run by Grain, an advocacy organization, because governments would not reveal the agreements. “Clearly, this is not over.”

The report, while generally supportive of the investments, detailed mixed results. Foreign aid for agriculture has dwindled from about 20 percent of all aid in 1980 to about 5 percent now, creating a need for other investment to bolster production.

But many investments appear to be pure speculation that leaves land fallow, the report found. Farmers have been displaced without compensation, land has been leased well below value, those evicted end up encroaching on parkland and the new ventures have created far fewer jobs than promised, it said.

The breathtaking scope of some deals galvanizes opponents. In Madagascar, a deal that would have handed over almost half the country’s arable land to a South Korean conglomerate helped crystallize opposition to an already unpopular president and contributed to his overthrow in 2009.

People have been pushed off land in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Zambia. It is not even uncommon for investors to arrive on land that was supposedly empty. In Mozambique, one investment company discovered an entire village with its own post office on what had been described as vacant land, said Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations food rapporteur.

In Mali, about three million acres along the Niger River and its inland delta are controlled by a state-run trust called the Office du Niger. In nearly 80 years, only 200,000 acres of the land have been irrigated, so the government considers new investors a boon.

“Even if you gave the population there the land, they do not have the means to develop it, nor does the state,” said Abou Sow, the executive director of Office du Niger.

He listed countries whose governments or private sectors have already made investments or expressed interest: China and South Africa in sugar cane; Libya and Saudi Arabia in rice; and Canada, Belgium, France, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and multinational organizations like the West African Development Bank.

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Trans-Texas Corridor resurrected, promoted under new name

‘Nightmare’ federal plan resurrected from crypt

Controversial project now promoted under new name

WorldNetDaily | Nov 22, 2010

By Jerome R. Corsi

It was Amadeo Saenz, the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, who not quite two years ago, proclaimed to the Dallas News, “Make no mistake: The Trans-Texas Corridor, as we have known it, no longer exists.”

But it’s been exhumed, now appearing on numerous government and industry alliance websites as the new and separate projects that areknown as the I-35 Corridor and the I-69 Corridor.

Moreover, the Texas agency appears to have made a strategic decision to begin first with the I-69 Corridor portion that had received less attention during the battle that raged over the mega-highway project called the Trans-Texas Corridor from 2006 to 2008 when George W. Bush was president.

That the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Obama administration continues to harbor the dream of Mexico-to-Canada NAFTA superhighways is made clear by the Federal Highway Administration website that proclaims the “Corridor: Interstate 69 (I-69) – Texas to Michigan” is to be fully operational under the following project description: “The 2,680-mile international and interstate trade corridor extends from Mexico to Canada.”

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Chinese farmer dies after self-immolation over land seizure

A Chinese farmer died after he set himself and his father on fire to prevent his house from being demolished in the latest case of deadly resistance against land seizures, the local government said.

Telegraph | Mar 28, 2010

Tao Huixi’s pig farm was due to be torn down to make way for a highway in the eastern province of Jiangsu. He had refused compensation of 75,000 yuan (£7,370) as too low and would not move, the local government said.

Tao locked himself and his elderly father in his house in Donghai county when officials paid him a visit Saturday and set the room on fire. He was killed and his father was injured, the government added in a statement on its website.

According to a report in the state-run Beijing News, the officials were demolition and relocation workers who had come with a bulldozer to tear the house down.

Tao’s son said the 68-year-old had been negotiating for months over the amount of compensation he should get, but no agreement had been reached with the local government, the report said.

Tao had reportedly said that his buildings alone were worth more than 150,000 yuan (£14,750), it added.

Land seizures have been a problem for years in China, and have given rise to the term “nail house” to describe a holdout tenant or occupant like Tao, likening them to a nail refusing to be hammered down.

Violent resistance has been reported in numerous cases as ordinary people take matters into their own hands to resist eviction they deem unfair.

In a case that shocked the nation, a woman set herself on fire in November in the southwestern province of Sichuan over the planned demolition of her husband’s garment-processing business. She died 16 days later.

The Chinese government has expressed concern over the issue amid fears it could spark widespread social unrest, and in January it issued a raft of proposals to change existing rules on land seizures.

UN: By 2050, 70% of world population to be crammed into poor, overcrowded, polluted urban corridors comprising a tiny fraction of habitable land

The State Of The World Cities report claims that urbanisation is ‘unstoppable’.

World’s largest cities are morphing into overcrowded ‘mega regions’ defined by poverty and pollution, UN report warns

Daily Mail | Mar 24, 2010

The world’s largest cities are merging into vast ‘mega regions’ which will be characterised by overcrowding, poverty and pollution, a new report warns.

The continuing growth of urban areas is likely to be one of the most significant factors affecting society over the next 50 years, a United Nations agency said.

Such mega regions will stretch hundreds of miles across countries and will be home to more than 100million people. Last year it was confirmed for the first time that over half the world’s population lives in cities.

The State Of The World’s Cities report claims that urbanisation is ‘unstoppable’.

A mega region, which is often two or more cities becoming connected as increasing numbers of towns and ghettos spring up between them, has already been established in the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region of China where 120million people live.

Eduardo Lopez Moreno, the report’s author, said: ‘The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth, and the five largest cities in India and China now account for 50 per cent of those countries’ wealth.’

However, he claims an explosion of mega regions will not necessarily be a bad thing despite warning of ‘further patterns of social and economic exclusion’.

‘They, rather than countries, are now driving wealth,’ Mr Moreno added.

“Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18 per cent of the world’s population yet account for 66 per cent of all economic activity and about 85 per cent of technological and scientific innovation.’

Anna Tibaijuka, director of UN-Habitat, said: ‘Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70 per cent of the world will be urban dwellers.

‘By then, only 14 per cent of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33 per cent in poor countries.’

Related Links

UN Habitat

State Of The World’s Cities

The Secret History of Hurricane Katrina

blackwater_mercenaries

Blackwater mercenaries stride through New Orleans

There was nothing natural about the disaster that befell New Orleans in Katrina’s aftermath.

Mother Jones | Aug 28, 2009

By James Ridgeway

Confronted with images of corpses floating in the blackened floodwaters or baking in the sun on abandoned highways, there aren’t too many people left who see what happened following Hurricane Katrina as a purely “natural” disaster. The dominant narratives that have emerged, in the four years since the storm, are of a gross human tragedy, compounded by social inequities and government ineptitude—a crisis subsequently exploited in every way possible for political and financial gain.

But there’s an even harsher truth, one some New Orleans residents learned in the very first days but which is only beginning to become clear to the rest of us: What took place in this devastated American city was no less than a war, in which victims whose only crimes were poverty and blackness were treated as enemies of the state.

It started immediately after the storm and flood hit, when civilian aid was scarce—but private security forces already had boots on the ground. Some, like Blackwater (which has since redubbed itself Xe), were under federal contract, while a host of others answered to wealthy residents and businessmen who had departed well before Katrina and needed help protecting their property from the suffering masses left behind. According Jeremy Scahill’s reporting in The Nation, Blackwater set up an HQ in downtown New Orleans. Armed as they would be in Iraq, with automatic rifles, guns strapped to legs, and pockets overflowing with ammo, Blackwater contractors drove around in SUVs and unmarked cars with no license plates.

“When asked what authority they were operating under,” Scahill reported, “one guy said, ‘We’re on contract with the Department of Homeland Security.’ Then, pointing to one of his comrades, he said, ‘He was even deputized by the governor of the state of Louisiana. We can make arrests and use lethal force if we deem it necessary.’ The man then held up the gold Louisiana law enforcement badge he wore around his neck.”

The Blackwater operators described their mission in New Orleans as “securing neighborhoods,” as if they were talking about Sadr City. When National Guard troops descended on the city, the Army Times described their role as fighting “the insurgency in the city.” Brigadier Gen. Gary Jones, who commanded the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, told the paper, “This place is going to look like Little Somalia. We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

Ten days after the storm, the New York Times reported that although the city was calm with no signs of looting (though it acknowledged this had taken place previously), “New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, as well as National Guard troops and active-duty soldiers.” The local police superintendent ordered all weapons, including legally registered firearms, confiscated from civilians. But as the Times noted, that order didn’t “apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property…[who] openly carry M-16’s and other assault rifles.” Scahill spoke to Michael Montgomery, the chief of security for one wealthy businessman who said his men came under fire from “black gangbangers” near the Ninth Ward. Armed with AR-15s and Glocks, Montgomery and his men “unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. ‘After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said.'”

Malik Rahim, a Vietnam veteran and longtime community activist, was one of the organizers of the Common Ground Collective, which quickly began dispensing basic aid and medical care in the first days after the hurricane. But far from aiding the relief workers, Rahim told me this week, the police and troops who began patrolling the streets treated them as criminals or “insurgents.” African American men caught outside also ran the risk of crossing paths with roving vigilante patrols who shot at will, he says. In this dangerous environment, Common Ground began to rely on white volunteers to move through a city that had simply become too perilous for blacks.

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Nepal’s Maoists intensify land grab campaign

Kantipur | Sep 21, 2008

BY UPENDRA LAMICHHANE

BARA, Sept 22 – Not even a week after Maoist minister Matrika Yadav retook a huge swathe of land and house belonging to several locals of Siraha, discarding Home Minister Bamdev Gautam’s directives to vacate it on September 15, local Maoist activists here in Bara district captured seven bigha land belonging to former king Gyanendra’s elder sister Shanti Singh at Simara-2, Sunday.

Subsequently, Maoist cadres invited landless squatters over loud speaker and distributed land to them.

In the presence of their district committee member Jivan Kalikote and VDC secretary Bishnu Prasad Rijal, the Maoists gave away 10 dhur land to each squatter family.

“I came here after hearing on the loudspeaker that land was being distributed,” said an elated Hira Tamang of Amalekhgunj-2. “I plan to erect my house here.”

On Sunday, the Maoist cadres distributed the seized land to 61 such families of Pathalaiya, Simara and Amalekhgunj. They said the process would go ahead until all the land was given.

The land was under control of the Maoist-close All Nepal Transportation Workers’ Union for the last three years.

I resigned for PM’s ease: Matrika

Maoist leader Matrika Yadav said Sunday that he chose to quit the ministerial portfolio in order to make it easy for the prime minister to run the government.

Speaking at a programme at Haripur of Sarlahi, he also said he would never shun revolution and relationship with people.

He also claimed that his Siraha land grab was right in every way.

“While the centre of people’s war was Rolpa, the centre for land reforms movement will be Siraha,” he said while revealing that he would rather be active in such campaigns now onward.

On Friday, the then minister for Land Reforms and Management Yadav resigned from his post after he was severely chastised by partners of the coalition government and the party itself. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had even said the party would take action against Yadav as the latter’s act was against party policy.

In Cambodia, Land Seizures Push Thousands of the Poor Into Homelessness

Like tens of thousands of people around the country, those living here are victims of what experts say has become the most serious human rights abuse in the country: land seizures that lead to evictions and homelessness.

NY Times | Jul 27, 2008

By SETH MYDANS

ANDONG, Cambodia — When the monsoon rain pours through Mao Sein’s torn thatch roof, she pulls a straw sleeping mat over herself and her three small children and waits until it stops.

She and her children sit on a low table as floodwater rises, bringing with it the sewage that runs along the mud paths outside their shack.

Ms. Mao Sein, 34, was resettled by the government here in an empty field two years ago, when the police raided the squatters’ colony where she lived in Phnom Penh, the capital, 12 miles away.

She is a widow and a scavenger. The area where she lives has no clean water or electricity, no paved roads or permanent buildings. But there is land to live on, and that has drawn scores of new homeless families to settle here, squatting among the squatters.

With its shacks and its sewage, Andong looks very much like the refugee camps that were home to those who were forced from their homes by the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

Like tens of thousands of people around the country, those living here are victims of what experts say has become the most serious human rights abuse in the country: land seizures that lead to evictions and homelessness.

“Expropriation of the land of Cambodia’s poor is reaching a disastrous level,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, a private monitoring group, said in December. “The courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm.”

With the economy on the rise, land is being seized for logging, agriculture, mining, tourism and fisheries, and in Phnom Penh, soaring land prices have touched off what one official called a frenzy of land grabs by the rich and powerful. The seizures can be violent, including late-night raids by the police and military. Sometimes, shanty neighborhoods burn down, apparently victims of arson.

“They came at 2 a.m.,” said Ku Srey, 37, who was evicted with Ms. Mao Sein and most of their neighbors in June 2006.

“They were vicious,” Ms. Ku Srey said of the police and soldiers who evicted her.

“They had electric batons” — and she imitated the sound made by the devices: “chk-chk-chk-chk.” She said, “They pushed us into trucks, they threw all our stuff into trucks and they brought us here.”

In a report in February, Amnesty International estimated that 150,000 people around the country were now at risk of forcible eviction as a result of land disputes, land seizures and new development projects.

These include 4,000 families who live around a lake in the center of Phnom Penh, Boeung Kak Lake, which is the city’s main catchment for monsoon rains and is being filled in for upscale development.

“If these communities are forced to move, it would be the most large-scale displacement of Cambodians since the times of the Khmer Rouge,” said Brittis Edman, a researcher with Amnesty International, which is based in London.

That, in a way, would bring history full circle.

Like other ailments of society — political and social violence, poverty and a culture of impunity for those with power — the land issues have roots in Cambodia’s tormented past of slaughter, civil war and social disruptions.

The brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, during which 1.7 million people are estimated to have died, began in 1975 with an evacuation of Phnom Penh, forcing millions of people into the countryside and emptying the city. It ended in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge was driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion, sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into Thailand.

Many of the refugees returned in the 1990s, joining a rootless population displaced by the Khmer Rouge and the decade of civil war that followed in the 1980s. Many ended their journeys in Phnom Penh, creating huge colonies of squatters.

Now, many of these people are being forced to move again, from Phnom Penh and from around the country, victims of the latest scourge of the poor: national prosperity.

Whichever way the winds of history blow, some people here say, life only gets worse for the poor. If it is not “pakdivat,” revolution, that is buffeting the poor, they say, it is “akdivat,” development.

The Cambodian economy has at last started to grow, at an estimated 9 percent last year. And Phnom Penh is starting to transform itself with modern buildings, modest malls and plans for skyscrapers. It is one of the last Asian capitals to begin to pave over its past.

From 1993 to 1999, Amnesty International said in its report in February, the government granted commercial development rights for about one-third of the country’s most productive land for commercial development to private companies.

In Phnom Penh from 1998 through 2003, the city government forced 11,000 families from their homes, the World Bank said in a statement quoted by Amnesty International.

Since then, the human rights group said, evictions have reportedly displaced at least 30,000 more families.

“One thing that is important to note is that the government is not only failing to protect the population, but we are also seeing that it is complicit in many of the forced evictions,” Ms. Edman, of Amnesty International, said.

The government responded to the group’s report through a statement issued by its embassy in London.

“Just to point out that Cambodia is not Zimbabwe,” the statement read. “Your researcher should also spend more time to examine cases of land and housing rights violations in this country, if she dares.”

Here in Andong, the people have adapted as best they can.

Little by little, they have made their dwellings home, some of them decorating their shacks with small flower pots. A few have gathered enough money to buy concrete and bricks to pave their floors and reinforce their walls.

But this home, like the ones they have known in the past, may only be temporary. The outskirts of Phnom Penh are only a few miles away. As the city continues to expand, aid workers say, the people here will probably be forced to move again.

Ranchers Suspect Ted Turner in UN Land Grab

“A total world population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal.”

-Ted Turner, creator of the United Nations Foundation, quoted in both an interview with Audubon magazine and in the The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor, June ’96

“Since I was a little boy, I’ve always been very partial to the U.N. I love the flags.”

-Ted Turner, CNN Interview with Larry King 1997

Turner has donated $1 billion to ‘U.N. causes’ through his United Nations Foundation

Ted Turner massive land purchases called suspicious

Transworld News | Nov 29, 2007

Ted Turner has become the largest private landowner in the country with a total of 2 million acres in 11 different states. Turner recently outbid hopeful ranchers in an auction for 26,630 acres of ranch land in Nebraska.

After paying nearly $10 million dollars for the land, ranchers in the area began questioning the CNN founder’s intentions. Ranchers are suspicious of Turner is going to do with all of his land. The Turner camp says he only wants to be a rancher, but farmers and owners of the neighboring land believe he is trying to put them out of business.

Other theories include Turner attempting to gain power by cornering the land over the Ogallala Aquifer, which is the largest underground water system. Others believe he is conspiring with the United Nations to create a wildlife refuge before turning it over to the federal government.

“With him it’s such a concern. You don’t know what his plan is and what he’s going to do,” said Nebraska landowner Cindy Weller. “The entire way of life here is threatened, and it’s not just Turner, but he’s one reason. The whole area is economically depressed.”

. . .

Related

The U.N.’s global land grab

SEPARATING PEOPLE FROM THEIR WATER

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, AGENDA 21 AND PRINCE CHARLES

Turner becomes largest private landowner in US

“The United States has got some of the dumbest people in the world. I want you to know that we know that.”

“If I only had a little humility I would be perfect.”

– Ted Turner

Reports of Turner’s buying spree – like the Associated Press account of his Nebraska purchase – have generated numerous conspiracy theories. One is that he is scheming with the United Nations to create a vast wildlife refuge that would put Nebraska ranchers and farmers out of business.

Independent | Dec 1, 2007

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

Ted Turner gave the world CNN, but the legacy he intends to leave America is not the incessant drumbeat of television news, but millions of acres of wide-open spaces teeming with wildlife and protected endangered species.

Formerly known as the Mouth from the South, the patriarch of cable news is no longer in the media business, having left Time Warner in 2003. Today, he is America’s biggest conservationist as well as its largest private landowner.

Like many American outdoorsmen he is both a committed hunter and environmentalist, except that he has managed to turn his passion into a profit-making business.

Over the past few years, Ted Turner has used his $2.3bn (£1.1bn) wealth to create wildlife sanctuaries across many of the two million acres he owns in 12 states as well as in the southern tip of the Americas, Patagonia.

His mostly western lands are filled with bison, native cut-throat trout and cougars in habitat that he manages in an environmentally sensitive way. Hunters and fishermen pay big fees to bag elk, deer and catch and release rare species of trout, which he has brought back from the brink of extinction. His Nebraska ranches are home to America’s largest herd of buffalo, some 50,000 strong, which supply his restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill, with bison burgers.

The Turner land grab has, however, generated suspicion among ranchers who are complaining that this is another land grab by a rich liberal environmentalist, which is putting them out of business.

But Turner says he is more than a philanthropist, and tries to make money from all his ventures. His Vermejo Ranch in northern New Mexico was once a hideaway for Hollywood celebrities. These days it is a hunting preserve for the wealthy who come to bag elk, deer, antelope and Merriman turkeys. But he is also mining for propane natural gas from the immense coal reserves beneath the ranch – in an environmentally sensitive way, he says.

In the Nebraska Sandhills region, the Turner organisation recently outbid 19 local ranchers to pick up another 26,300 acres of prime ranch land for nearly $10m. The ranch had been in the same family for more than 100 years and is adjacent to a 100,000-acre spread he bought in 1995. According to the general manager, Russ Miller, the Nebraska spread was bought because it offered good grass and good water, despite a persistent drought in recent years.

“We’re resilient, the bison are resilient and the Sandhills are resilient,” Mr Miller said. Turner paid $17.78m for a 58,000-acre ranch in the Sandhills in 2005 and bought a 45,000-acre ranch in Sheridan County in 1998.

Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, a Turner spin-off, says his boss is just a “doggone serious rancher,” dedicated to preserving the environment.

Along with his land-buying, Turner has given more than $1.5bn to charity, including the United Nations Foundation, and an initiative aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The Turner organisation is now in discussions with the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union about conserving bison.

Both groups are hoping to develop a huge park where bison could once again roam the Great Plains freely. Reports of Turner’s buying spree – like the Associated Press account of his Nebraska purchase – have generated numerous conspiracy theories. One is that he is scheming with the United Nations to create a vast wildlife refuge that would put Nebraska ranchers and farmers out of business.

But Turner spokesmen insist that the driving force behind his land purchases is simply the desire to make money. The Vermejo Ranch offers week-long elk hunting excursions at $12,000 a pop. And there are now more than 51 Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants across the country serving the famous bison burgers.