Old Man on His Back Ranch

Old Man on His Back Ranch

Location: Southwestern Saskatchewan

Photos by Branimir Gjetvaj.

The Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB) continues to be one of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) flagship projects in Saskatchewan and a beacon of hope for protecting our remaining intact native grasslands. Located in southwestern Saskatchewan, the area is characterized by vast natural lands with significant cultural and historical value. Thanks to Peter and Sharon Butala, the ranch’s previous owners, this 13,135-acre (5,316-hectare) ranch will be protected forever.

In centuries past, herds of bison roamed free here, pursued by ancestors of the Nikaneet Cree. Medicine wheels and teepee rings are testaments to previous human presence. At one time the Northwest Mounted Police pastured their horses on part of the property.

Old Man on His Back provides habitat for various species of plants and animals. Wheat grasses, blue grama and June grass dominate the uplands. Imperiled species such as ferruginous hawk and swift fox frequent the property, and pronghorn, mule and white-tailed deer are commonly sighted.

As part of the semi-arid mixed grass prairie area, which originally spanned two provinces and five states and more than 160 million acres (65 million hectares), Old Man on His Back is an excellent example of our remaining mixed prairie grasslands. Most of the mixed grass prairie disappeared rapidly with settlement and conversation to croplands.

Today, about 30 percent remains near Cypress Hills and along the Frenchman River Valley. Dry prairie landscape is under great threat of cultivation in southwestern Saskatchewan. Fortunately, this property is surrounded on three sides by federally and provincially owned community pasture, forming a large block of intact native prairie.

In 2003, NCC introduced a herd of genetically-pure plains bison onto the property. This fulfilled NCC’s vision of reintroducing the native grazer to the area with the goal of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity.

In 2015, OMB was designated a Nocturnal Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society in Canada. More information on the significance of this designation can be found here.

An interpretative centre on the property helps NCC share this rich natural and cultural heritage and promotes resident and visitors’ awareness and value of this area. Visitors enjoy a rare opportunity to see the prairie in its ageless beauty, complete with a conservation herd of plains bison. The centre tells the story of the land, people and wildlife on the Northern Great Plains of southwest Saskatchewan.

The OMB visitor center is open weekends from the May long weekend to the end of September each year, when the interpreter is available to greet visitors and lead tours. Visitors may explore the prairie grasslands with “on-foot-only-access” to experience the tranquility and vastness of the ranch.

For information on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s project at Old Man on His Back in Saskatchewan click – here

For driving directions on how to discover Old Man on His Back click – here

For more information – please contact:  saskatchewan@natureconservancy.ca