Skip to main content

When The Land Recovers

Key projects that are helping damaged ecosystems recover their vitality.

Bison cows and coming yearling calves cross the bridge on Cherry Creek - west side of the ranch (c) Holly Pippel

Imagine discovering a fossilised forest whose origins date back some 6,500 years. People in the Czech Republic were puzzled when they came upon a historic collection of the first trees known to exist following the Ice Age, some 8m deep in the ground. A once hidden library of tree rings could finally speak, reveal fascinating science and offer untold stories of what was once roaming the Earth. These trees could have provided oxygen to the thousands of bison foraging on the grasslands of South Carolina for example, until the decay of the land and the demise of the bison.

“It was that eradication of the sacred bison that Ted Turner took to heart as a little boy and never really forgot about.” Laura Turner Seydel remarked recently at the Explorers Club as a philanthropist, one of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Patrons of Nature and the chair of the Captain Planet Foundation. Through her lively presentation, she shares what she is most passionate about: the amazing solutions that regenerative agriculture and grazing can do to address the climate and biodiversity crises.

This is continuing the work her father has led which was influenced by a National Geographic magazine article that he read when he was 9 years old, about the genocide of indigenous people and the eradication of their sacred animal, the bison. “When he became successful enough in his business, he bought his first piece of land in South Carolina and acquired three bison. These initial bison grew into a larger herd and Ted eventually bought 14 ranches, mostly in the western US, for the herd to expand and flourish along with native species including elk, deer, beavers, antelopes, bears and mountain lions. Today, there are around 45,000 bison on the property."

Laura Turner Seydel with her father Ted Turner at the Flying D Ranch (c) Turner Family

"When Dad took over these lands, they were cattle ranches that had been over-grazed and were ecologically out of balance with many environmental challenges. I learned five years ago from our consultants that the health of soil is not static, it either is improving or it’s degrading. And the world's grasslands are in decline. The good news is that using the principles of regenerative agriculture and grazing, bison and cattle, in a managed and disciplined way, can actually lead to an explosion of life above and below ground and can kickstart many ecosystem services. Healthy soil is a proven solution for wellness, water scarcity, the climate crisis and the extinction crisis. Dad has been passionate about restoring the ecological health of the land and promoting biodiversity. Our scientific team has worked to focus on native threatened and endangered species which includes 13 that are IUCN red listed like the Mexican gray wolf, black footed-ferret, native cutthroat trout, Bolson tortoise, Chiricahua leopard frog and monarch butterfly.”

Carl Young understood the power of nature as well and said during an interview at his Bollingen retreat at age 80, that: “we must give time to nature so that she may be a mother to us.” Young had apparently found a way to live there as part of nature and because of that, “lived in his own time.”

Is that what the experience of longevity could also be: connecting with nature to such a point that one forgets linear time and “opens up to new dimensions”? To Young, “natural life is the soil of the soul”, so if we help the soil human lives can improve too.

Greg Carr at the Pungue River on his way to visit the school that the Gorongosa Project supports in the Vinho Community.

Apparently, great things do happen when one allows for nature’s solutions to unfold organically. Just talk to Greg Carr, who answered the call from the President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, for the much-needed restoration and protection of the Gorongosa Park ecosystem after the once thriving Park, known as the Serengeti of the South, was almost lost in one generation of conflict, civil war and a persistent poaching community. About 95 percent of the species perished and 1,500 square miles of depleted ecosystems were left behind.

“If you want to do most good in the world, go to the place you are most needed,” he says. “We had to repair this damaged ecosystem so it could be ready for tourism again and support the national economy. Today the Gorongosa National Park is one of Africa’s most successful restoration projects.”

In 2008, the now retired tech mogul committed US$30 million of his personal fortune to resurrect the land that historically was the home to thousands of wild animals including zebras, waterbucks, and antelopes. Carr is committed to taking care of the land and uses conservation biology to restore and protect the Park and the local economy with a dedicated team of Mozambicans. He is of the opinion that nature conservation and community development must go hand in hand.   

Bunga Inselbergs in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique (c) Piotr Naskrecki

In 2024, the budget for the Gorongosa Restoration Project (GRP) is about US$30 million and two thirds of that will be spent outside of the park, in the local communities, supporting agriculture, healthcare and education.

An integral part of keeping the project alive is to involve the future generations in the restoration and management of the land. Under his leadership the first female Park Ranger and the first female certified safari guide are a fact! Personally, he is most proud of the Park’s pre-school and the girls club program as he wants to keep girls in schools.

This year, Carr selected a Mozambican woman named Aurora Malene to be the President of the GRP and remains involved from the Oversight Committee. He extended his contract with the Government of Mozambique to 2043 and, over the 35-year term, will contribute about US$200 million. His annual contribution is now leveraged four times by other donors. These commitments will not only allow the land to recover, but also for nature, animals and people thrive.

This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Longevity Issue. To subscribe click here.