Stewardship traditions, O'Toole family continues to improve Ladder Ranch
Savery – With a deep-seated connection to the Little Snake River Valley and a conservation ethic unparalleled, Pat and Sharon O’Toole and their family of Ladder Ranch were recognized for their efforts during the 2014 Environmental Stewardship Tour, held July 10.
“We are committed to Wyoming,” said Pat. “We are trying to fit into the future and the vision of the future.”
Wyoming Stock Growers Association President Jim Wilson commented, “As we look at Ladder Ranch, the O’Toole’s and their family, we have to give them a lot of credit. There is a future here, and it is great to have this family recognized this year.”
Larry Bentley of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture noted, “Here was a perfect storm. Everything came together, and the partnership worked. This is what makes it work for us today on public land – the partnership between landowners, BLM, Forest Service and other people to help us do what we think is the right thing.”
Ladder Ranch runs both sheep and cattle in their Wyoming and Colorado Ranch.
“We have a complicated operation,” Pat explained.
Their cattle and sheep graze a variety of Forest Service and BLM allotments across southern Wyoming.
“Part of our philosophy is that we manage all of our own genetics,” commented Pat. “The idea is to buy the best genetics we can get our hands on and raise them ourselves in this environment. It works.”
The family also irrigates nearly 600 acres of land raising hay.
At the same time they run a sustainable ranching operation, the O’Tooles also focus on conservation.
“A conservation legacy and land ethic has been associated with this valley since the 1870s,” commented Larry Hicks, Wyoming senator and conservation district resource coordinator.
The Ladder Ranch is no exception, with projects to improve grazing and allow fish passage, among others.
“We are working on grazing issues, water issues and wildlife issues together,” said Pat. “It has really been a pleasure.”
“We want to leave this land better than the generation before,” said Pat and Sharon's daughter Meghan.
The Nature Conservancy and Colorado Cattlemen’s Association hold conservation easements on Ladder Ranch in Wyoming and Colorado.
Paula Hunker of The Nature Conservancy said “The easiest thing about our job is working with a family like this who has a shared visions. Not only do they want to protect their lifestyle, which is ranching, but they want to do it in a way that protects the resources here – from the water to grass to sheep to wildlife – to find that balance so when the eyes of future are looking back, we have seen beyond our own time.”
Nearly 1,500 acres are under conservation easement. The easements were completed in three stages, and Hunker explained that they help to protect the future of the ranch.
“An easement is a very heavily family decision,” said Hunker. “They wanted to do this together and build in the flexibility. We don’t know what will be here in 100 years, but we do know that we want sustainable agriculture operations to exist.”
“For our family, the partnerships have been important,” said Pat. “For various issues, we work on a local and national basis.”
However, in their work Pat noticed that partnerships and working together have been important.
“We have taken a vision of this watershed and we’ve been able to do things with partners,” Pat explains, citing Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Forest Service, BLM and others as important players. “We know the value of having these personal relationships.”
“We aren’t stopping where we are today,” he added. “Our vision gets broader and more exciting as we move forward.”
In continuing to improve Ladder Ranch and the partners have established a positive working relationship
“I know their partnerships extend all the way across this country and into others as well,” added Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough. “People look to this family for leadership, not only in conservation but in all agricultural practices.”
Family has always been an important aspect of Ladder Ranch, with all parts of the family coming together to make the operation a success.
The O’Toole’s children Eamon, Megan and Bridget play an integral role on the ranch, with Eamon and Meghan intimately involved in the daily operation.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the contributions of not only our kids, but also their spouses,” says Sharon.
Eamon’s wife Megan and Meghan’s husband Brian both work off the ranch providing extra income and necessities such as insurance for their families. Bridget and her husband Chris live in Denver, Colo. but are involved in many ranch activities throughout the year.
Telling the story
Because conservation and ranching are their way of life, Pat mentioned the importance of sharing the story of conservation and agriculture as being increasingly important.
“The biggest thing we have to do is tell our story,” he commented. “This is a great story of public land ranching and the relationships that agriculture, conservation and wildlife have.”
The Environmental Stewardship award program is in its 18th year in Wyoming, with over 18 ranching families from across the state being recognized for their efforts in conservation and stewardship of the land.
“Each year, we sponsor a competition and accept nominations for the Environmental Stewardship Award,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.
After winning the state competition, winners are nominated for the National Stewardship Award the following year.
The Environmental Stewardship Award and Leopold Conservation Award are sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, Peabody Energy, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Department of Agriculture.