Storm clouds over sagebrush steppe.
Storm clouds over sagebrush steppe.

Sagebrush steppe in Carbon County, Wyoming. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies
Sagebrush steppe in Carbon County, Wyoming. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies


Pat O’Toole

A rancher, conservationist, and friend of Audubon.

When a person passes, one may hear the phrase, “The world is a lesser place without them.” That phrase couldn’t be truer than when remembering Pat O’Toole. Pat left this world on February 25, 2024, and will be greatly missed, for many, many reasons; his impact was vast.

Throughout his life and career, Pat was known to bring people together, not divide them. He was never partisan. He simply focused on doing what he thought was right for the land, wildlife, and the people of the West. Audubon celebrates his life, his accomplishments, and the ability for one person to leave such a lasting mark on the lands and people around him.

Pat was a leader. He was admired and respected by the agriculture community and broadly recognized as a strong advocate for conservation on local, state, and national levels. With a ready smile and willingness to roll up his sleeves, along with his out-of-the-box thinking, Pat brought diverse groups together, creating dialogue, partnerships, and a solutions-oriented approach that incorporated conservation in everything he did. He saw, with great clarity, how sustainable preservation of our land and wildlife required all of us to work together, both private landowners and public land managers.

His accomplishments are wide and deep, including representing Carbon County in the Wyoming House of Representatives, being appointed by President Clinton to the Western Water Policy Commission, serving as president of the Family Farm Alliance from 2005 until his death at age 75, testifying in front of national committees including U.S. House Resource Committee and the U.S. Senate Energy Committee, and serving as a board member of the Intermountain West Joint Venture, where he advocated for migratory bird habitat, just to name a few. This latter role is where Audubon had the privilege of getting to know Pat. He had such a deep sense of stewardship and a gift for working with a wide range of people, making him an effective advocate for Greater Sage-Grouse.

He took his passion and care for conservation personally as well.  Together with his wife Sharon and their family, they ran the scenic Ladder Ranch, located along the Wyoming-Colorado border. Having been in the family since 1881, the ranch was designated as an Important Bird Area by Audubon in 2014. That same year the Ladder Ranch received the 2014 Leopold Conservation Award, sponsored by the Sand County Foundation and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. The ranch served as a strong example of how conservation can be applied to a robust working ranch. Through these trials and accomplishments, Pat valued information and partners. The O’Toole family worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Little Snake River Conservation District, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement beneficial river projects. Sharon and Pat also applied the latest science to enhance sagebrush habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse on the ranch. As such, in 2016 Pat received the Kurt Bucholtz Conservation Award through the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust, in recognition of his stewardship.

Brian Rutledge, a former Audubon conservation staffer and fellow board member of the Intermountain West Joint Venture, describes Pat as “a rancher who made his and his family’s mission to live by example, to help realize a balance of the needs of nature and of humans.”   

Pat will be missed, and the world is certainly a lesser place without him, but he created a lasting legacy for conservation and the West, one that will carry forward and endure.

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