Pat O’Toole is a rancher who, along with his family, owns and operates the Ladder Ranch, a large-scale cattle and sheep operation that straddles the Colorado-Wyoming border. Pat’s wife Sharon’s family established the ranch in the Little Snake River Valley back in 1881, and now, six generations later, the family’s hard work, thoughtful vision, and a deep respect for the land have made the Ladder Ranch a shining example of the combined effect of productive agriculture and land conservation.
Pat’s background is far outside of the norm for many multi-generational ranchers—he grew up in south Florida, majored in philosophy in college, and just before he and his wife enrolled in law school, they decided to return to her family’s land to continue in the family business of ranching. Since then, the O’Tooles have not only run a financially successful operation, but they have simultaneously improved wildlife, bird, and fish habitat throughout the ranch. By thinking outside the box and partnering with both non-profit and governmental organizations, the Ladder Ranch has set a new standard for conservation, creative problem solving, and sustainable land stewardship.
We had a fun, in-depth conversation that covered a wide variety of topics that will be of interest to anyone who loves the West, whether you’re involved in ranching or not. We discuss Pat’s thoughts on cooperation between ranchers and environmentalists, and how the relationship between the two groups is getting stronger and more positive every year. We chat about water in the West, and why it is important to keep water on ranches rather than being sold off to municipalities. We also dig into Pat’s unconventional background, his thoughts on the future of land conservation, and of course, favorite books, history, and his favorite location in the West.
Pat is an interesting guy who has thought very deeply on issues related to the American West, including conservation, water, and agriculture. There’s a lot of great information in this interview, so I hope you enjoy!
Photo courtesy of Pat O’Toole
- Ladder Ranch
- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
- Homestead Acts
- In depth discussion of water rights – Spencer Williams podcast
- National Audubon Society
- Rotational grazing
- George R. Salisbury, Jr. (Pat’s father-in-law)
- Confessions of a Maverick: An Autobiography by Farrington Carptenter
- Erik Glenn – Saving Colorado One Ranch at a Time
- Senator Larry Hicks
- Sand County Foundation
- Ladder Ranch’s Leopold Conservation Award
- Family Farm Alliance
- Partners for Conservation
- Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician’s Quest for Recovery in the American West by Roger Di Silvestro
- Jefferson’s America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie Fenster
- The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley
- The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History by Paul Andrew Hutton
- Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides
- Lonesome Dove movie