Our Ranch, Our Kids and Our Conservation Mission

Conservation has always been important on our ranch. We have been able to raise sheep and cattle on the Wyoming/Colorado border for many generations while taking good care of the natural resources that allow us to do so. The wonderful large landscape upon which we live and work also allows us to provide habitat for a number of wildlife species—everything from bats to elk to fish, and, of course, birds.

We are fortunate that two of our three adult children have returned to the ranch to be partners in the operation which was founded in 1881. Meghan Lally and her husband Brian, and Eamon O’Toole and his wife Megan live near the ranch headquarters with their young families, who are the sixth generation.

Each person working on the ranch is responsible for a different segment of the operation, but everyone works together to accomplish necessary tasks. The family always breakfasts together to discuss ranch operations and keep in touch. This is a key time when everyone tells each other what is going on in their complicated operation, compares schedules and plans.

McCoy and Eamon work the chute.

In June 2013, the Battle Creek corridor on our ranch was designated as an Important Bird Area by Audubon Wyoming. We knew that we host many bird species, some that over-summer and many that migrate through. We were very happy to be recognized as an Important Bird Area. We knew we shared our home with lots of birds, but when our birder friends commented on their variety and health, we started looking at them with a new eye. We realized that many of our agricultural practices benefited birds and most of the wildlife species that live on and around the ranch. We attribute part of the success to the protection we provide through predator control, which of course, is part of the livestock operation. We use flood irrigation to raise hay in the summer months, which also provides wetland habitat for the birds, whether they are over-summering or migrating through.

We have participated in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. In this program, the FWS works with private landowners to preserve and improve habitat for "species of interest"--in our case the Colorado cutthroat trout. With funding and expertise from the FWS and others--including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and our local Conservation District--we have placed 40 plus diversion structures in Battle Creek and our stretch of the Little Snake River. These provide habitat for the cutthroats and other fish which live in our waters, have enhanced our flood irrigation on the hayfields (by creating permanent rock diversion structures) and armored our riverbanks against spring flood events. The structures were put to the test in the spring flooding of 2010 and 2011, and prevented a lot of the erosion that our neighbors experienced.

This year, we were honored to receive the 2014 Leopold Award sponsored by the Sand County Foundation and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. To quote the website: 

Pat and Sharon pose with their Partners for Conservation plaque.

"More than three quarters of the land in the U.S. is in private ownership, but we all have a stake in what happens on privately-owned agricultural land. It affects our air, our water and our nation's wildlife. Sand County Foundation's Leopold Conservation Award Program honors landowners across the U.S. for outstanding voluntary achievement in conservation practices that improve their bottom line and our environment."

We like to say that we raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children. We can add birds, fish and other wildlife species to that list.

Note from Ali Duvall, IWJV Assistant Coordinator: Sharon and Pat O’Toole represent the heart of the West. Whether you meet them at their kitchen table, or stand side-by-side in the halls of Congress, their passion for ranching, conservation, and the viability of future generations living off the land shines. They are truly conservation champions, developing solutions for agriculture, fish and wildlife, and the stewardship of our nation’s natural resources. 


Read more articles from the Fall 2014 e-Newsletter:

Partners Step Up to Conserve Wetlands in the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington By Terry Mansfield, IWJV Washington State Conservation Partnership Coordinator

Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust: Conserving Land for People and Birds By Cecilia Rosacker McCord, Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust

Putting Funding for Habitat Work in a National Context for Smarter Results By Ali Duvall, IWJV Staff

Our Ranch, Our Kids and Our Conservation Mission By Sharon O’Toole, Ladder Livestock Company

Mountain Plover: An Inconspicuous Shorebird That Breeds, Nests and Winters Across Some of the Toughest Places in the Intermountain West By Victoria Dreitz, Avian Science Center Director

New Partner Biologists Boosts Conservation Delivery Capabilities in Southern Oregon By Jim Stutzman, IWJV Staff