Ted Turner speaks at the Ellen Theatre

Mike Greener/Chronicle

Media mogul and Bozeman resident Ted Turner, right, along with local biographer Todd Wilkinson, left, talk about their new book discussing Turner's conservation endeavors before a live audience at the Ellen Theatre Friday evening in downtown Bozeman.

Some say Ted Turner has an uncanny ability to anticipate the future. But 30 years ago, he probably didn’t foresee a night when Montanans would be celebrating his efforts, especially those related to the environment.

On Friday night, the Ellen Theater was sold out as 500 people came to hear Turner talk about his causes, the future and his recent biography, “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet.”

It also was a chance for many to thank Turner for placing 113,000 acres of the Flying D Ranch in a permanent conservation easement, preserving some of the Montana that is fast disappearing.

Turner joined biography author Todd Wilkinson and interviewer Catherine Crier onstage as the Bear Canyon Singers sang tribal songs. After the drumming reached a thunderous crescendo, the lead singer strode over and shook hands with the man who cares as much about bison as Native Americans do.

“Welcome, Mr. Turner. Thank you so much,” the singer said.

Some of the interview questions highlighted parts of Wilkinson’s book, because the event was partly a promotion for the One Book-One Bozeman reading effort.

Wilkinson told of his first meeting with Turner decades ago. Although Wilkinson has recited the stories before, telling them in Turner’s presence obviously added a different dimension.

“He was a swaggerer, at the top of his game. I was a little bit intimidated. I’m not quite as intimidated…” Wilkinson said, trailing off as Turner shot him a look, getting a laugh from the audience.

The most charming parts of the evening featured solo acts from Turner, including an a cappella rendering of “Home on the Range.”

At one point, Turner was asked to recite part of a favorite ancient poem, “Horatius at the Bridge.”

Turner started slowly, reciting in a measured baritone. With each verse, the words came more sure and his voice rang as he finished, looking out and pointing at the audience.

“In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three: Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?” Turner said, as if asking those assembled that very question.

Before the interview, the organizers showed a short Turner Broadcasting System video about Turner featuring a Turner quote: “I will help as much as I can but I’m getting older.”

Now when he walks, his shoulders are slightly stooped and his voice isn’t as strong as it was. As more people are now turning to him for help, Turner can no longer devote the same level of energy.

Realizing his limitations, Turner is encouraging others to carry on.

Turner is helping to nurture a new project, the Global Sustainability Effort, but instead of leading, he’s backing the lead man, Jeffery Sachs, a world-renowned economist.

Turner said a friend pointed out that the U.S. has no energy plan. Turner expanded that, recognizing the world has no plans for energy, population, overfishing, water, poverty or health care.

“If you don’t have a plan, how do you get anything done?” Turner said. “We need a plan for everything so I suggested to Jeffrey that he do it. I’m a little too tired to take on a project right now.”

Turner may be tired but he’s not discouraged. He still remembers the words of mentor Jacques Cousteau.

“I was having a hard time… and he said, ‘Ted, even if we knew for sure that we were going to lose - which we don’t – what else can men of good conscience do but keep fighting to the very end,” Turner said. “Whenever I’ve tended to get discouraged since then, I remember what the captain said.”

Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.