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Ted Turner, media mogul and buffalo protector, to accept award in CO for saving prairie dogs

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Though he's probably most famous for fathering 24-hour cable news, World Championship Wrestling and, to budding environmentalists in 1990 the world over, the Saturday-morning cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers (Goooo Planet!), media mogul Ted Turner also loves animals. Especially animals that live in the wild, wild West, such as buffalo (hello, Ted's Montana Grill!) and...prairie dogs?

Yes, prairie dogs. According to the Boulder-based Prairie Dog Coalition, Turner's ranches (and there are several of them) are home to 150,000 prairie dogs. For that reason, he'll be the main attraction at Friday's prairie dog fundraiser, Living on Burrowed Time, where he'll give a talk about wildlife preservation and receive the organization's "Prairie Dog Protector of the Year" award.

Lindsey Sterling Krank, director of the Prairie Dog Coalition, says she first learned of Turner's efforts in 2009, when she was invited to tour one of his ranches in Kansas where both buffalo and prairie dogs roamed. "I looked all around and thought, 'This is amazing,'" Sterling Krank says. "He's done so much for these prairie dogs."

Inspired, she attempted to invite him to last year's Living on Burrowed Time fundraiser but was told that the man behind TBS was already booked, eight months in advance. His handlers suggested she try for 2011 -- and Turner accepted. "I'm excited, honored and tickled pink that he decided to come," Sterling Krank says.

In addition to accepting his award, Turner will participate in an on-stage interview about the numerous environmental foundations he's involved with, as well as his current wildlife projects. According to Sterling Krank, buffalo and prairie dogs have a symbiotic relationship. For example, the bison eat and trim the grass, allowing prairie dogs to move in. (Prairie dogs like to live in short-grass areas so they can better see their predators, Sterling Krank says.) In return, the bison use the prairie dogs's burrows -- which are hard dirt mounds -- to help them scratch off their winter coats come springtime.

But not everyone loves prairie dogs as much as Turner and Sterling Krank. Though ecologists consider them a keystone species, many in the West still think of them as pests -- which makes Turner's endorsement all the more critical. "Prairie dogs have a lot of enemies and can use as many friends as possible," Sterling Krank says.

Tickets to the event are still available. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder and includes a four-course vegetarian meal, organic wine and a silent auction.

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