By Published On: August 7, 2020

Conservation Youth Award Nominee Brings Science Home to the Ranch

Every time Siobhan Lally goes out on the mesa near her family’s ranch on the Colorado-Wyoming border, she counts deer. She’s mainly looking for hunting purposes, she said, but, over time, she’s learned quite a bit about the animals and their habits.

“I see what species are there and where they like to go,” she said. “It’s the kind of science not everyone thinks about.”

Lally, a senior at the Little Snake River High School in Baggs, Wyoming, has been interested in science and its ties to conservation since she was young. When she was in middle school, a project for the school science fair saw her out on Battle Creek, which flows through her family’s ranch, every morning of November and December, chopping through the ice to take the temperature of the water and measure dissolved oxygen. Not only did she learn why fish all go to the bottom of a river when the surface freezes, she collected viable winter water quality data for Battle Creek .

The project won her first place locally and it also went on to compete at the district and state levels. At the state Science Fair, her project was awarded the Stockholm Junior Water Prize recognizing outstanding water-related research done at her grade level. Although her school hasn’t done a science fair since due to the constraints of being a small-town school, Lally has continued to think about ways to integrate science and conservation into ranching through her involvement in the 4-H and FFA programs at school, where she holds leadership roles. Currently, her mind is on a rotational grazing experiment driven by her uncle’s plans to try out cell grazing with the family’s livestock.

“I’m really interested to see how that works and what effects it has on the land,” she said.

Her family owns the Ladder Ranch, which is widely recognized for its conservation practices. One of her early experiences in habitat conservation was watching a cooperative project that placed rock structures in Battle Creek to enhance fish habitat as well as irrigation systems for the ranch. The project involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish & Wildlife program, the local Little Snake River Conservation District, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and demonstrated cooperation among diverse players in conservation. 

It’s this kind of cooperation that captivates Lally, who would like to pursue an internship with a conservation organization like Partnerscapes (previously Partners for Conservation) after high school. Thinking about conservation through the lens of collaboration also challenges her to think about how science is communicated. That project with the water temperatures? Often, when she shared her results with people around town who were making mid-winter fishing plans, they scoffed at her insistence that cold surface temperatures keep fish at the bottom throughout the winter months. She said this made her really think about how she explained the science to others.

“I realized that when you explain it to people you have to help them understand the little details and really explain the why,” she said. “The next time someone said something, I showed them how they were partly right, but also explained why my science showed otherwise.”

This recognition of using good communication to meet people in the middle and promote conservation is reflected in much of Lally’s work. She frequently participates in the FFA’s Speech Contest. Her sophomore-year speech was about wild horses, their effect on the landscape, and possible solutions to their impact. As a junior, her speech explored the complicated issue of bighorn sheep and conflicts with domestic sheep, the effects on wildlife, communities, and economies, and possible solutions. As part of her research for the speech, she attended a meeting of the Wyoming Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group to further her learning on this issue. She placed first at the local level with both speeches and placed at the District and Regional Contests, addressing hundreds of people from all over the state at these events.

When she was 12, Lally had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with her grandparents Pat and Sharon O’Toole. There, she joined conservation advocates from the Intermountain West Joint Venture and (then) Partners for Conservation to speak with congressional and agency leaders, as well as then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell about the importance of conservation on the landscape. Ed Arnett, the chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said that Lally showed a bright light for the future of conservation at those meetings, and she continues to do so through her work today.

“She learned that if you want to initiate and make change happen, you have to communicate with decision-makers as well as the public,” he said. “She has learned copious and valuable lessons while growing up on the Ladder Ranch, and has taken every opportunity possible to educate others and to look to the future of conservation and landscape health.”

Siobhan Lally was a 2020 finalist for the Intermountain West Joint Venture’s Conservation Youth Award.