Colorado’s John Malone passes Ted Turner as largest private landowner in the U.S.

Land John Malone is buying in Maine (Craig Dilger, The New York Times)

Colorado tycoon John C. Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, is on the verge of surpassing Ted Turner as the largest private landowner in the United States.

Malone is in the process of purchasing about one million acres in Maine, which would bring his total holdings to a little over two million acres, narrowly bumping Turner from the top spot, The New York Times reported today.

From the Times article:

Mr. Malone, who lives in Colorado, is chairman of Liberty Media and has extensive holdings in QVC, the cable channel;, the travel Web site; and Sirius XM satellite radio. Liberty Media also owns the Atlanta Braves, which Mr. Turner once owned. Last year, Forbes ranked Mr. Malone as the 110th richest person in America, and though he has been an aggressive media player for decades, he has operated largely out of the limelight.

He intends to keep the land as a working forest, aides said, and will continue to supply timber to local paper mills and keep the land open to the public for recreation. Environmentalists are “cautiously optimistic” that Mr. Malone will not develop the land, said Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Mr. Malone owns various parcels of land around the country, including more than 68,000 undeveloped acres in Maine and the 290,000-acre Bell Ranch in New Mexico. Once he buys roughly 980,000 acres in Maine’s North Woods and about 20,000 acres in neighboring New Hampshire, under a deal to be completed by Tuesday, he will own 2.1 million acres nationwide.

Mr. Turner, who is a longtime friend of Mr. Malone’s, owns about 2 million acres in the United States, much of it ranch land, and he also owns about 100,000 acres in Argentina. He raises more than 50,000 head of bison across his various ranches and has long reigned as America’s No. 1 land holder.

“The odds are, when the tabulations are done and this transaction closes, Mr. Malone definitely will be America’s largest landowner,” said Eric O’Keefe, editor of The Land Report, a magazine that keeps track of such things.

Mr. O’Keefe said that many of the vast landholders of today were not in the same mold as the robber barons of yore.

“I’m sure there’s some alpha male in there, but they’re making the planet a better place,” he said. “It’s about stewardship.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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