O'Toole Family Wins 2014 Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:05/12/2014 Updated:01/09/2018

The family, of Ladder Ranch on the Wyoming-Colorado border, wins one of the most prestigious awards in private lands conservation.

Nestled in the Little Snake River Valley on the border of Wyoming and Colorado, the Salisbury/O’Toole family has been ranching at the feet of the Battle, Squaw and Sheep Mountains for more than a century.

In the early 1880’s, A.W. and Anna Louise Salisbury homesteaded at the confluence of the Little Snake River and Battle Creek. Fast forward 130 years and the family is being honored with the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming for generations of ranching with a dedication to conservation.

After a long winter, the spring season is finally in full swing at Ladder Ranch. When I talked with Patrick O’Toole, they had just finished branding this year’s new cattle and were to commence the sheering of sheep on Friday.

But while activity on the ranch is ramping up for spring, Patrick offers the reminder that “there is no inherent contradiction between production and conservation.” The proof is visible on the lands they lease from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for use as lambing grounds, where the O’Tooles are working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and several other partners to conserve habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse – a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, the land hosts the largest Greater Sage Grouse lek – an area where male sage grouse gather together to perform courtship displays during breading season (which is now) – in 3,000 square miles. Visit the Ladder Ranch blog for pictures of over 120 sage grouse on the lek taken at the end of April.

This is but one in a long line of stewardship partnerships the Salisbury/O’Toole family has initiated, beginning with the creation – in conjunction with the US Forest Service and with their neighbors – of one of the nation’s first rotational grazing systems. Their rotational grazing techniques have changed over the years, but the family proudly runs cattle on the same permit.

Since 1993, they have been a part of Wyoming’s Coordinated Resource management (CRM) program to conserve the abundant wildlife and watershed of the Little Snake River Valley. Alongside the area’s working ranches are thriving populations of game, including elk, deer and antelope; over 150 species of birds, including the aforementioned Greater Sage Grouse, and the largest population of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in Wyoming.

The O’Toole’s are particularly focused on enhancing the four and one half miles of Battle Creek that flows through the Home Ranch.

The ranch has over 1,000 acres of land held in conservation easements on each side of the Wyoming-Colorado border, held in partnership with the Nature Conservancy to the north and with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) to the south.

This year, the O’Toole family was recognized by Governor Matt Mead as the recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award during a ceremony in which he proclaimed July 10, 2014 to be Wyoming Environmental Stewardship Day. As a part of the celebration, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association will host the Environmental Stewardship Tour, which every year highlights the Leopold Conservation Award recipient’s conservation efforts.

Aldo Leopold once wrote about the stewardship of private lands: “The reality is that most of the best land will always be held privately for agricultural production. The bulk of the responsibility for conservation thus necessarily devolves upon the private steward, especially the farmer.”

Suffice it to say, the O’Toole family have lived up to that responsibility. Today, the budding sixth generation of O’Toole ranchers – Siobhan, Seamus, Maeve, Tiarnan, and their cousins McCoy and Rhen – are learning the ropes (literally) from their parents and grandparents.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program Story

The O'Toole family's leadership in private land conservation is why we are proud to have Patrick's wife Sharon on the LandCAN's Advisory Board.


re: O'Toole Family Wins 2014 Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming
By: Karen Swet on: 07/11/2014

Thanks, Amos for the details of this award-winning family. I also appreciate your comment that the Leopold Conservation Award is "the most prestigious awards in private lands conservation." As you know, we sponsor the award in 9 states and are fostering it in others.