Photo: Society for Range Management


James Tom O’Rourke, 81, died unexpectedly in Chadron, NE, March 5, 2024.

Jim was a passionate champion of rangelands: from implementing sustainable management on the family ranch (RuJoDen Ranch in Chadron, Nebraska); to range livestock projects in Africa; to developing a Range Management Program at Chadron State College; and being instrumental in the establishment of the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists 2026.

Jim’s leadership and dedication within the International Rangeland Congress (IRC) spanned 26 years. He served on the IRC Continuing Committee for 13 years, from 1995 to 2008, including president from 2003 – 2008. This is the longest term of any serving member. He contributed to organising five International Congresses including: Salt Lake City, Utah (1995); Hohhot, Inner Mongolia , Autonomous Region, Peoples Republic of China (2008); Rosario, Argentina (2011); Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (2016); and the Global Virtual Congress hosted from Kenya (2021).


Jim O’Rourke running an IRC business meeting in Saskatoon, Canada


Jim used to tell the story that at the Townsville congress in 1999, the International Rangeland Congress Continuing Committee spent their days in business meetings debating incorporation and the constitution and were unable to participate in many of the congress sessions. Fortunately for Jim, he and many of his USA colleagues had joined Don Burnside in the pre-congress tour through outback South Australia and Queensland. Luckily, the touring party arrived safely despite flat tyres, sleeping in makeshift swags, and the Australian guides not actually having previously travelled the route.

Jim played a substantial role in supporting the organising committee of the combined XXI International Grassland Congress and VIII International Rangeland Congress held in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia in 2008. Perhaps making up for being locked in meetings in 1999, Jim fully embraced the Chinese tradition of conducting business over sumptuous meals and copious quantities of rice wine, always honouring his host with a toast of ‘Ganbei’. Jim was certainly resplendent in traditional Mongolian attire at the Opening Ceremony.


Jim O’Rourke and James Phelps at the VIII IRC held in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia in 2008


After the Hohhot Congress, Jim developed a set of Congress Planning Guidelines based on his experience and insight of the planning and actions needed to ensure all future congresses would be a success. These were first used by the Argentina Organising Committee and are currently being used by the Australian Organising Committee in planning the Adelaide Congress in June 2025.

Jim genuinely cared for the rangelands, fostering a global culture that reflected his values and the value of his previous generations – graze gently, and be productive in balance with nature and wildlife. At Jim’s core, he understood that we are the stewards of the rangelands.


Jim O’Rourke teaching herders in Mongolia


There is a wonderful video of Jim discussing the family being awarded the prestigious Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award in 2018. This award recognises extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and management of natural resources by American ranchers, farmers and foresters.

Jim maintained close ties with Australian rangeland professionals throughout his career, perhaps through a shared focus on practical results that will benefit the land and the managers of the land.

At the time of his death, Jim was working tirelessly on his new passion, writing a book on sheep wagon builders and restoring his eighth sheep wagon to add to the collection already on display.

A celebration of life will be held June 22, 2024 at 11:00 a.m., at the RuJoDen Ranch, 61 Country Club Road, 5 miles south of Chadron, Nebraska.

A memorial has been established for the completion and publishing of Jim’s “Sheepwagon Builders” book. Donations can be sent to Homestead Bank, P.O. Box 1351, Chadron, NE 69337.


David Phelps (


Links to other Eulogies to Jim:

Microsoft Word – IYRP eulogy for Jim O’Rourke March 2024.docx

James “Jim” Tom O’Rourke | Rangelands

James Tom O’Rourke (1942 – 2024) (

James Tom O’Rourke (

James Tom O’Rourke – Tooele Transcript Bulletin (

Rangeland leader Jim O’Rourke dies | Sheridan County Journal Star

James “Jim” O’Rourke – KCSR / KBPY (