SAVERY, Wyo. -- Pat O'Toole trudged through ankle-deep snow to the confluence of Battle Creek and the Little Snake River, a place where beaver trappers fought the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho in 1841.
Despite the creek's name, O'Toole considers it a place of refuge, where birds sing from cottonwood limbs and trout jump from the water.
"This is my park," he said. "It's a little Zen deal."
O'Toole, 67, who wore a black jacket, a ball cap and a red kerchief around his neck on a workday last month, strives to ensure the native wildlife on his 12,000-acre ranch can coexist with the cattle and sheep that provide his livelihood.
He and his wife, Sharon, own and manage the Ladder Ranch along with two of their adult children, Meghan O'Toole Lally and Eamon O'Toole. It straddles the Wyoming-Colorado border in the scenic Little Snake valley.
O'Toole has big plans for the watershed. He wants to restore cottonwoods and willows to help stabilize the stream banks and keep water cool for the fish. This summer, he plans to convert a hay field from using flood irrigation to using a pivot sprinkler so he can leave more water in the creek.
Like many ranchers in the West, the O'Tooles are trying to marry food production with conservation. It's no easy task with roughly 800 cows and 7,000 sheep to feed.
As ranching firebrands like Cliven Bundy and his son Ammon steal headlines with armed standoffs at Bunkerville, Nev., and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon -- conflicts rooted in frustrations over federal land control -- the O'Tooles stand at the opposite end of the public lands ranching spectrum where collaboration is key. As Sharon O’Toole put it, "We consider ourselves part of the radical center."
For the most part, they've found ways to get along with the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, the agencies that dictate when and where they can graze their animals on the federal estate.
But getting along takes work, they said.
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Reprinted from Greenwire with permission by E&E Publishing, www.eenews.net. Copyright 2016.