sheep grazing on the Routt National Forest–reducing wildfire, building soil
As international negotiators huddled in the last hours to hammer out an acceptable agreement, agriculture garnered little attention, except as a source of methane emissions. The need to produce 50 percent more food worldwide in the coming decades was hardly mentioned at all. Virtually no notice was given to wildlife and wildlife habitat enhanced by agricultural production. These are glaring omissions.
Fossil fuels, especially coal, were the crux of the negotiations.
Oil, gas and coal provides about 80 percent of all the energy used by human civilization. In China, it’s 88 percent (US Energy Information Administration). In the U.S., about 80 percent. The other big influencer is India, third in emissions and receiving 70 percent of its energy from coal alone.
India and China’s negotiators intervened in the last hours to water down language about reduction of fossil fuel use and subsidies to “phase down” from “phase out.”
Here’s a link to see the makeup of the delegations.
An emphasis was placed on deforestation, but other than an exhortation to plant trees, attention was not given to the role sound forest management has in sequestering carbon and managing water.
To the credit of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) they stated, “At COP26, governments recognized that soil and nutrient management practices and the optimal use of nutrients lie at the core of climate-resilient, sustainable food production systems and can contribute to global food security. It was also recognized that while livestock management systems are vulnerable to climate change, improving sustainable production and animal health can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands. improving sustainable production and animal health can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands.”
In the end, we believe our Solutions from the Land team of seven was highly effective. We communicated with folks high (John Kerry) and low (the lone delegate from Tajikistan) about the importance of agriculture and forestry, and its role as a solution to climate change.
If the goal of no more warming than 1.5 degrees centigrade has a hope of being met (we’re currently at 1.1), it will take all sectors. The solutions are not simplistic,
Cattle trailing off the Forest, after a summer of grazing management
Day 4 was a big one for Pat, Ray, and Sharon at the COP26 talks. While world leaders promise to stay up late to hammer out an agreement palatable to all, or almost all, participating countries, we have been talking, talking, talking to other delegates, trying to convey that agriculture is a solution and can offer mitigation and regeneration to landscapes needing healthy management.
Ray is a world-class farmer whose 30-year record of innovation is unparalleled. He has a gift for engaging people—from fellow travelers on the Edinburgh to Glasgow train to high mucky-mucks in our government and others. He is a large-scale farmer of corn and soybeans in Iowa. He is innovative and open-minded, and works extensively with researchers to determine the best way to produce crops, enhance soil and benefit natural resources.
Each of us has been engaging with whomever will listen to convey our message supporting agricultural production, and practices which improve the landscape.
Pat spoke at length with Joao Campari, Global Leader of World Wildlife Fund’s Food Practice initiative. He was curious and engaged, and recognized our message that wildlife habitat is largely dependent on private landowners and their stewardship. As an example, rice growers in California manage the flooding of their paddies to minimize methane release, and to accommodate the migratory birds who are dependent upon the rice fields to survive as they travel. The role of wildlife and its symbiotic relationship with agricultural practices is missing from these discussions at COP26. It requires education regarding the web of life.
We heard the drumbeat (sometimes literally) by some to eliminate meat from the human diet. There was no thoughtful consideration of indigenous and rural cultures and their role as pastoralists. There was no recognition or appreciation for the superpower of grazing animals to convert grass and sunshine into protein. There was a demonization of cows and other red meats.
While Greta Thunberg and other young protesters gathered in the streets outside the main venue to demand action, they did not seem any wiser than their negotiating elders within. If an easy solution existed, it would have been enacted by now. The protesters with their signs and their skits were colorful and entertaining, but they too were guilty of the blah, blah, blah they were accusing the negotiators of blathering.
Pat did engage with Fred Krupp, long-time President of the Environmental Defense Fund, which is sometimes a reasonable partner with progressive ag organizations. Fred spoke in front of a mural which depicted cows, along with the big “30%” description of livestock production’s contribution to the greenhouse gases, and the phrase “Simple Solutions.” When challenged, Krupp said it was just a pretty picture of cows and that the 30 percent was absolute fact, so how could this be offensive?. We did challenge those assumptions. We are all ears for the Simple Solutions.
Pat told Mr. Krupp that we had spoken with farmers from all over the world, who are feeling attacked and unappreciated. The anti-cow drumbeat, both subtle and overt, is just the most aggressive part of this messaging. The human population is growing, demanding resources from energy to water to food. Fifty percent more food production will be needed in the coming decades. With attacks on livestock and farming, and the havoc caused in production systems from climate change, we are not on track to feed the world.
Grazing and good farming practices are a solution to both producing food and improving the landscape. This message was missing from the COP26 deliberations. We did our best to make this message heard. Solutions from the Land is just what its name communicates—solutions, not agendas.
“Methane from livestock accounts for nearly 30 percent of global methane pollution”
“Eat less meat” (top left)
on site dining with carbon footprint 0.1 for the Spinach and Roasted Cauliflower, 3.9 for the Scottish Beefburger
These are examples of “information” shared at Pavillions and eateries within the COP26 site.
Peatville Pavillion, and another hat
another hat on the bus
Pat visiting with Howard Shapiro, Senior Scientist in plant science and agroforestry/agroecology for M&M, Mars. He is with the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Howard leads the Multi-Disciplinary Research Unit, a collaborative effort between Mars, UC Davis and The University of Nottingham. He’s a chocolate guy.
Pat talking with Stuart Roberts and Ceris Jones, British National Farmers Union
Greetings from Day 3 at COP26. It’s like the blind man and the elephant—we are perceiving a lot, but there’s lots that is unseen. With that in mind, here’s what we are not seeing.
Our goal here is to represent agriculture, livestock, grazing and the nexus with conservation. COP26 is an attempt by most governments around the world to contain rising average temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, using 1850 (pre-industrialization) as a baseline. We are already at about 1 degree increase. Sometimes extreme weather—hurricanes, flooding, drought, derechos—are a result. While one can argue specifics—where is this taking place, how is it measured, etc.—we are all experiencing the results.
Part of our ranching operation lies in Colorado’s Moffat County, which is one of the world’s “hot spots.” Northwest Colorado’s temperatures have increased 2C or more already. In Moffat County, it is 2.1C. We are seeing, on the ground, in our lives, extreme drought which stresses vegetation, wildlife, livestock and people. You can call it “Global Weirding” but it is affecting us, without doubt.
While countries have delegations showcasing their assets and their concerns, an even bigger presence are the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations)—everyone from World Wildlife to the Amazon Alliance to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition to the Farm Bureau. Nature Conservancy has its own center. Thousands of “Observers,” including Pat, Ray and me for Solutions from the Land, are at COP26.
While high level meetings are taking place to try to hammer out agreements to reach the goal of reduction in global warming, or Zero, as they call it, a literal babble of voices try to make themselves heard. China and Russia, two of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, stayed home. It was a huge announcement yesterday when the Biden administration announced that a climate agreement had been reached with China.
What we don’t hear is a lot of practical solutions. While the high-level talkers are more sophisticated than the tens of thousands of demonstrators (WE WANT ACTION NOW!), I haven’t heard viable plans.
Lots of talk is about the “rich” countries–the biggest emitters–funding projects in affected “poor” countries to mitigate the environmental and economic consequences. What would this look like? How would the donators ensure that the money went to actually helping? And the first-world countries have problems of their own and don’t seem to have much appetite for sending billions.
Two “solutions” thrown around a lot are eliminating beef and grazing animals, and eliminating driving cars. Glasgow has a great public transportation system, but Wyoming does not. Many COP26 attendees celebrate indigenous cultures, but see everything through an urban lens.
In our community, and the larger food and forestry community, we do have solutions which will make a real impact. We have programs, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife that get real work done on the ground, in the landscape. Ray Gaesser’s Iowa farm is a showcase for the world on how to produce crops at scale while improving soil and resources. The people on the land offer actual solutions.
This is the message we are conveying at this conference.
It’s all about the hat. Who knew that a cowboy hat would be the key to opening discussions with other people attending the COP26?
Pat and Sharon are attending the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow. Scotland. Folks from all over the world are here, from indigenous people from the rain forest to NGO staff to government representatives from many countries—and two ranchers and a farmer from the United States.
The COP26 site is amazing. The main venue hosts booths of all sorts. Countries have booths, and many booths are issue-themed. There’s the Methane Moment area and the Peatlands space. All are competing for the attention of the attendees. And the attendees like ourselves, called observers, are also trying to get their message out.
Our voices—Pat, Sharon and Ray—are not well-represented here. We are agriculturalists and conservationists. Little recognition is given to wildlife, unless it’s a polar bear or an elephant. Our message is that agriculture is not the problem, it’s a solution. Our message is that in many parts of the world, wildlife habitat is enhanced or even created by agricultural practices.
A pervasive theme here is carbon imprint of food. At the food venues around the site, a number representing the carbon imprint is posted. The Scottish beef burgers have the largest number, but we ordered them anyway. Actually they weren’t too far ahead of the fried broccoli.
Native dress is worn by folks from everywhere. Lots of feathered headdresses, Sikh dastars, Middle Eastern skullcaps, Saudi ghutras and Scottish fedoras are to be seen. Pat’s Stetson is the only one, and it attracts all kinds of people wanting to talk about cowboys and the American West. This gives us a good opening to talk about the issues, very much related to climate, and the importance of food and fiber production. We emphasize the relationship between farmers, ranchers, habitat and wildlife.
Rice is a topic at COP26. Lots of people, in their presentations and conversation, throw out numbers that, as Pat pointed out, add up to lots more than 100 percent. We attended a panel discussion at the U.S. Pavilion where the carbon footprint of rice was examined. The panelist from the United States said that two big methane emissions in California come from the Central Valley, a rich farming region, and the Sacramento-area rice fields. He said that rice is reputed to account for 30 percent of agricultural emissions. He also pointed out that without the responsible management practices of the rice growers, migratory birds would have no place to feed and rest on their journey. (https://iwjv.org/water/). Rice is a staple food for 30 percent of the world’s population.
Pat’s hat (and his deep knowledge of the issues) attracted a young woman who videoed us discussing the value of food and fiber production. It led to a conversation with a Honduran who loved the American West. It gives us an opening to carry our message.
Never underestimate the power of a cowboy hat!
Pat on the bus from the Glasgow Queen’s Station train to the COP center
Pat in the registration line (Sharon was behind him with the camera)
Pat and Sharon were invited to attend the COP26 climate talks in Scotland. We will post a blog for each day we attend. The posts are longer than usual, but it is like drinking from a firehose! The Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) is sharing these posts with agriculture and conservation groups throughout the West. The IWJV’s mission is to protect migratory birds and habitat. Thanks for sharing, Dave and Hannah!
World on fire billboard in Edinburg
Greetings from Scotland! Pat and Sharon O’Toole are delegates to the COP26 event in Glasgow. COP stands for “Congress of Parties” and this is the 26th year it has been held. The gathering is sponsored by the United Nations (UN) in order to address climate change—both its consequences, and strategies to slow or reverse the rise in temperatures, severe storms, flooding, effects on health and other consequences.
We are in Glasgow representing the organization Solutions from the Land, where Pat serves as a Board member. SfL focuses on land-based solutions to global challenges, with ranchers, farmers, foresters and partners who advocate for enabling agricultural landscapes to bring solutions in such challenging areas as food and energy security, sustainable economic development and environmental improvement. (See solutionsfromtheland.org.)
Pat also serves a President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators, and on the boards of Partnerscapes and the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV). The IWJV staff has kindly offered to distribute this blog, so thanks guys.
In the debate over climate change, and ways to address its effects, agriculture has become a whipping boy. Competing studies, including those by the UN, cite statistics attributing methane pollution to livestock production. These percentages range from minor to as much as 32 percent. This usually includes the agricultural part of the transportation sector, as we run tractors, transport food and drive home from the grocery store. Animal agriculture has been a particular target. It is easy to attack domestic livestock production without recognizing that properly managed grazing animals are a tool—indeed one of the very best tools—to regenerate soils and plants on the landscape.
Agriculture has been scarcely represented at past COPs and the discussions led by the United Nations. In fact, SfL is one of the few organizations which has shown up at the table to consistently carry the message that we are a solution, not a problem. Pat likes to say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” We also need to be in the kitchen!
Our first impression is the stark gap between those who are on the land, and those who think they know a lot about it. Our job is to bridge that gap.
Last week—the first week of COP26—was attended by four American agriculturalists with SfL. This week, Pat and Sharon are attending with Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser. Up to 30,000 people are delegates and around 100,000 people, many of them young, are demonstrating outside. The demonstrators are demanding action to avert the disastrous effects of climate change, but we didn’t hear any solutions proffered. The folks inside the “Blue Zone” are supposed to come up with those.
Getting to Glasgow, being invited to the event, and just being able to attend has been complicated. The days leading up to arrival included lots of paperwork, proof of vaccination, and a negative Covid19 test. As one wag said, “30,000 people getting together in the midst of a pandemic—what could possibly go wrong?!”
The organizers have taken plenty of covid precautions, including daily self-tests reported to the Scottish government, and loads of sanitizers, wipes and masking. Outside, it’s just a bunch of people milling about.
We arrived a couple of days early and decided to see the sights. All the locals told us that we must visit the Highlands—at least that’s what we think they said since their English is somewhat different than what we hear in Wyoming. We booked a tour and went north. It is amazing country! We were heartened to see the pastures dotted with sheep and cattle.
As we travelled further north to Loch Ness (didn’t see the monster), the country became wilder and the scene of many a battle with the British. Think “Braveheart” and “Outlander.” In the rough north country, almost all of the cattle were Scottish Highlanders. With the chill and the wet, you can sure see why they’ve developed those coats!
The Scottish people couldn’t be nicer. They are not just friendly, but really go out of their way to help. Yesterday a young man saw us struggling to buy train tickets, and he stayed with us until we had the proper tickets in hand. We are staying in Edinburg, about an hour’s train ride away from Glasgow. In Wyoming, we’re a little short on public transportation, so the assistance was much appreciated.
This is an adventure, both in seeing the countryside and in attending the COP with people from all over the world. Our goal is to carry forward our message that agriculture is essential, and that it is a solution.
Beware of horns!
Highlands of Scotland
intrepid swimmers in the Loch
ferry at Loch Ness “You only see the monster, Nessie, if you’re not looking and you don’t have a camera”
Horseman Torran Duncan with Dad, saddlemaker and rancher Keith Duncan.
As I said, we were WORKING! Pat, our son-in-law and meat purveyor Chris Abel and I were on the panel that discussed “Food Production and the West.” We were joined by California “urban farmer” A.G. Kawamura, and Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen. Since our roundtable was scheduled at the same time as Baxter Black’s show, we were wondering if anyone would show up. We visited with Dr. Black in the Green Room before the show, and I told him I hoped we didn’t draw away from his sold-our, lottery only show. Luckily, a goodly number of dedicated issue junkies showed up (or maybe those who didn’t draw a Baxter Black ticket–but, hey, a girl can dream!).
Pat, fellow Carbon County resident and wonderful singer Trinity Seeley, and Baxter Black, probably discussing food policy
Chris, Dan,Pat, Sharon, and AG discussing how to feed 9+billion people in a few years
Blog fans may assume that our family attended the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering so that we could have a fabulous time listening to poetry and music, and viewing Western Art and Gear… oh, and eating Basque food and imbibing the occasional Picon Punch. No siree–we were WORKING! Here’s a photo of Meghan, along with other young ranchers, discussing intergenerational transfer and the future of ranching. Her husband Brian Lally was there to support her, and looked plenty nervous when the moderator asked the panelists what they fought about with their spouses. Joe (on the right) wisely answered that he has learned that his wife is always right. Meghan honestly answered “time management”. Brian gave a sigh of relief. I was glad that it wasn’t me on the spot!
Icelandic horses near Selfoss, descended from Viking stock
It has been my dream (read Bucket List) to visit Iceland in the winter to see the Northern Lights. When I have expressed this goal to friends, the usual reaction is something like,”Whadaya, nuts?!” I recently turned 60, and at the end of a really wonderful party attended by family and friends, Pat handed me a book on Iceland.
“We leave on Wednesday,” he said. This was a Saturday.
We did get to see the Northern Lights, which as it turns out, is not at all a sure thing. We also stayed on two farms and were treated to tours and long discussions about livestock and farming in Iceland. Almost all of Iceland’s many tourists visit in the summer months (go figure) so folks had time to spend with us.
We learned that not only are the horses, sheep and cows descended from the original animals that came from Scandanavia in the late 800’s, but most of the people are too. Turns out the Vikings stopped by Ireland and Scotland to pick up “thralls” on their way to Iceland, so the people are of both Nordic and Celtic descent
Here are some photos of Iceland in winter..
farm with shelter belt to protect from rock slides
Icelandic ewes, descended from Viking stock
Icelandic sheep in barn, where they spend most of the winter
Pat with our new-found farmer friends
Icelandic cat and cow
Proud farmer. Each cow has a name, production records and lineage going back to the Vikings.
Sharon visits with a farmer about his sheep
church near Vic
Looking south to the sun over the North Atlantic
the mountains north of Vic
Two night trolls were pushing a ship when they were caught by the morning light and turned to stone
The days unfold–one warm dry sunny day after the next. The neighbors gather and talk of only one subject–when will it snow? We all have tales to tell. Only two years ago, we were lamenting because we had to start feeding hay two weeks before Thanksgiving. This year, some of us still have some rough feed we can use for the cows and horses–the tall dry grasses left under the trees that couldn’t be reached by the mower during haying season. Some have been feeding hay for months, after the summer pastures came up short and the fall pastures were used early. Some have shipped animals out because of the lack or expense of feed. Drought in the corn states and demand from ethanol have made corn–the staple of livestock feed–prohibitively expensive. The government’s mandates, and lack of action on disaster programs mean that the livestock sector has been sacrificed as farmers are being encouraged to grow fuel in place of food. Cattle and sheep, but also dairy (especially dairy!), poultry, hogs, and even catfish are being driven into loss as corn prices soar.
We continue on, unhampered by storms or ice or cold.
Rock structure in Battle Creek to enhance fish habitat and irrigation
Our valley, the Little Snake, is an area blessed with abundant natural resources. Community members recognize the value of the abundant wildlife, habitat for all sorts of fish and fowl, and rich agricultural lands. Many folks who live here have made a commitment to working with a number of partners in order to enhance these resources.
On our ranch, we have worked extensively with the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service’s program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife. as well as the Wyoming Game and Fish, the Little Snake River Conservation District, the USDA conservation programs, and many other interest groups to keep our operation healthy and productive.
Here is an article written by Mindy Meade Vohland, a wildlife biologist and our go-to person on our Battle Creek fishery project.
Mindy Mead Vohland
Land Ethic Fuels Public-Private Conservation Efforts in the Little Snake River Basin, WY
By Mindy Meade Vohland
Communities within The Little Snake River valley have a long and remarkable history of natural resource conservation. Conservation partnerships in this region demonstrate not only that wildlife and agriculture are mutually compatible, but that restoration efforts can reap positive rewards for both.
The Little Snake River drains the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains and snakes westward along the Wyoming-Colorado border, ever broadening until it reaches the Yampa River and ultimately, the Green River Basin in Colorado.
The Little Snake River Valley has always supported productive wildlife and game populations. In 1844, explorer John C. Fremont said of the area:
“The country here appeared more variously stocked with game than any part of the Rocky Mountains we had visited: and its abundance is owing to the excellent pasturage…”
The excellent pasturage led to the establishment of viable livestock operations, starting with cattle in 1872. Today, ranching and energy production are the primary land uses. An abundance of game, including some of Wyoming’s largest populations of elk, deer, and antelope, still thrives alongside existing ranches.
The waters of the Little Snake River are fertile grounds for Colorado River cutthroat trout and other fish. This intact aquatic ecosystem and its associated riparian and wetland areas provide habitat for over 150 bird species, including a large, stable population of Greater Sage-Grouse and the largest population of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in Wyoming. Regionally, these extraordinary wildlife populations have engendered a community land ethic that links the viability of lifestyle and working landscapes to natural resource stewardship
and conservation. Indeed, local residents and agricultural community members typify this ethos, having established in 1954 the Little Snake River Conservation District (District), a property tax assessment to fund conservation work within the Basin (in 1990), and the first locally led collaborative effort for a 500,000-acre watershed improvement project (in 1993). In 1996, they established a national “Seeking Common Ground” project that demonstrated how livestock operations can positively co-exist with fish and wildlife.
To be sure, landowners, along with government and non-profit partners, possess the willingness and drive to further landscape-level conservation in the Little Snake River Basin. For example, the Muddy Creek Wetlands near Dad, WY, a project of the District and its partners, is the largest constructed wetland complex in Wyoming. Hundreds of species of waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl from both the Pacific and Central Flyways utilize the area for breeding and migration; the site is a WY-Audubon Important Bird Area.
Another project, the “Little Snake River Basin Aspen Conservation Joint Venture,” is set to restore over 12,000 acres of aspen woodlands. Over 16 miles of river and stream projects have been completed on the mainstem of the Little Snake River and within its tributaries. These projects include improving fish passage and riparian plant communities as well as restoring hydrology to perched water tables to enhance oxbow slough wetlands and streamside cottonwood galleries.
Lastly, three area ranches have undertaken conservation easements in order to protect natural resources, keep agricultural operations and economic benefits intact, and protect the scenic landscape from subdivision.
“We are proud that we can provide for both wildlife and our agricultural operation, and enhance them both,” said Patrick O’Toole, a private landowner (and IWJV board member) whose Ladder Ranch partnered with The Nature Conservancy in a conservation easement. Ladder Ranch is a sustainable ranching operation that also serves as an ecotourism destination.
Successes such as these were spurred by a communal land conservation ethic, but realized by a body of collaborative, private-public conservation efforts, many of which were led by the Little Snake River Conservation District. Accordingly, the District received the National Association of Conservation District West Region Collaborative Conservation Partnership Award in 2008 and was named “Conservation Partner of the Year” by the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust board in 2010.
Larry Hicks, Resource Coordinator of the Little Snake River Conservation District, describes his work and the magic of the Little River landscape: “I came here looking for a job. In my 21-year journey, I found my soul, a community and a new way of life – one that exemplifies the moral principles of the land ethic. It’s who we are.”
Mindy Meade Vohland is Wildlife Biologist for Partners for Fish & Wildlife (a division of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Editor’s note: In 2010, the Intermountain West Joint Venture helped catalyze a small NAWCA grant for oxbow wetlands restoration in Wyoming and is looking forward to helping catalyze more conservation partnerships in the region.
Patrick and Sharon O'Toole are ranchers in the Little Snake River Valley on the Wyoming-Colorado border. They represent the fourth generation on the six-generation family ranch. The O'Tooles raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children on their high country ranching operation. The transhumance operation stretches from north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Wyoming's Red Desert.
Pat has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, the Western Water Policy Commission, and is currently President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators and water users in the western United States. He is active with several conservation and agricultural organizations.
Sharon is a writer and poet. She writes extensively on western issues, and the relationship between landscape, animals and people. She is widely published as an author, essayist and editorial commentator.
Pat and Sharon have three children. Their daughter, Meghan and her husband Brian Lally, live on the ranch with their children, Siobhán, Seamus, Maeve and Tiarnán. Meghan has also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture and the Environmental Quality Council, She and Brian are active in community service.
Daughter Bridget lives in Phoenix with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in health care communications. Chris works in the food distribution business.
Son Eamon and his wife Megan live on the ranch with their sons, McCoy and Rhen. Eamon is a horseman and natural resource manager, and Megan is a flight nurse. Eamon is a member of the Wyoming Beef Council and is active in the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.