Pat O’Toole – Six Generations of Balanced Ranch Stewardship

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 O’Toole and his family

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

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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:59 – How Pat describes his work
3:41 – History of the Ladder Ranch
4:45 – Discussion of the Homestead Act’s effect on settlement
9:07 – Cooperation between ranchers and environmentalists
9:55 – Benefits of grazing cattle and sheep
11:00 – Rotational grazing on the Ladder Ranch
11:55 – Importance of not breaking up ranches
13:00 – “Hopefuls” and “Hatefuls”
14:28 – The “Era of Limits”
19:00 – Pat’s personal background
21:55 – TR’s creation of Forest Service
23:28 – Amazing feats of past generations
26:00 – Ingraining the conservation ethic in children
28:10 – Pat’s role models
30:36 – The Ladder Ranch’s community of conservationists
33:00 – Importance of keeping water on ranches
37:00 – Flood irrigation explained
41:25 – Importance of keeping water our current water law in tact
42:30 – Leopold Conservation Award
44:00 – Endangered Species Act
46:50 – Favorite books
49:42 – Ferry Carpenter’s ranch library
50:15 – Favorite movies
53:40 – Craziest experience in the outdoors
54:50 – Favorite location in the West
55:22 – History of Battle Creek
57:40 – Pat’s request of the listeners
58:50 – Connect with the Ladder Ranch online
Information Referenced

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