Patrick “Pat” O’Toole is all about achieving balance for Wyoming— making sure that the need for healthy landscapes, abundant water and wildlife, and the need for continuing energy sources work together and grow in tandem.
Understanding that Wyoming’s three main industries—agriculture, energy development, and tourism—all depend on natural resource use to remain economically stable, he strives in everything he does to “find a way of going about things to maximize resources.”
With a decidedly holistic approach to everything he undertakes, Pat calls himself a “philosopher farmer.”
Pat O’Toole wears many hats. He and his wife, Sharon Salisbury O’Toole, and their extended family, preside over the Ladder Livestock Company, a six-generation family ranching operation in the Little Snake River Valley on the Colorado-Wyoming border near Savery, Wyoming.
“We raise cattle, sheep and horses on over 100,000 acres, private and public, of some of the most beautiful country to be found anywhere,” Pat marvels. “For an extra prize, we have one the largest elk herds located in North America living on and around our range lands.”
Pat farms irrigated hay and alfalfa fields to produce winter feed for the livestock. He serves as president of the Family Farm Alliance (FFA), an organization dedicated to ensuring the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water supplies to farmers and ranchers in 17 Western states. He served in the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1986-1992 where he was on the Select Water Committee. He was appointed by President Clinton to the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Committee, which studied Western water issues from 1995 to 1998.
Historically, agriculture plays an important part in Wyoming’s economy, and is essential in Wyoming’s culture and lifestyle. The cattle industry is by far the largest component of Wyoming agricultural income, with a production value growing to $801.8 million dollars in 2008.
According to 2004 figures, production of cattle and calves accounted for over three-fourths of the state’s total agriculture production. Wyoming is ranked 4th in the nation in lambs and sheep.
In a major collaborative effort, Pat helped organize Mountain States Rosen—a company that melded B. Rosen & Sons, Inc., a lamb and veal processor and distributor, and the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, a cooperative representing sheep producers, including Ladder Livestock, in 10 Western states.
“Sheep ranching as an independent was no longer viable for a number of reasons, but coming together and combining resources in this coalition has been a great success for us and other ranchers,” says Pat.
With Pat’s mission to maximize resources whenever possible, Ladder Livestock has been involved in Wyoming’s Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) program since March 1993. CRM is a collaborative approach to managing natural resources involving private landowners and state agencies and other diverse stakeholders, with an aim to promote optimum private and public benefit from the land and its resources.
“Since the ranch is abundant in big game and other wildlife species, and is located in a very scenic area, one of our CRM goals is to develop income from a recreation base,” Pat explains.
“We have been working with a fisheries expert to enhance five miles of Battle Creek which flow through the Home Ranch. We have found the CRM process to be very helpful in generating ideas and resolving conflicts.”
Pat and Sharon’s daughter Meghan lead in developing ranch recreation. They are working with a Wyoming Audubon leader to open up Ladder Ranch to bird enthusiasts.
In other innovative explorations to maximize resources, Pat is looking for a way to re-use the water produced out of coal bed methane, and using livestock to reclaim oil fields.
In March of this year, Pat and his family protected 266 acres on Ladder Ranch through a conservation easement accomplished with a broad coalition of partners including The Nature Conservancy, The Green River Valley Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, and Audubon Wyoming—the first step toward safeguarding the entire 1500+-acre Home Ranch.
The easement not only protects the ranchland from future development pressures, but enhances the family’s efforts to develop fishery and recreational opportunities. More than 1,500 acres are also being protected across the state line with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Land Trust.
“Land is disappearing at a rate that is unsustainable,” says Pat.“I believe that people want to preserve these beautiful open spaces for enjoyment now and for future generations.”
Pat O’Toole looks at everything, from the traditional to the new, with an eye to the big picture. And from his big picture window he sees balance as the key. “The Wyoming we want maintains beautiful open spaces with new energy and industrialization,” he says. Pat’s mission is to be a catalyst for this balance.December 06, 2010