Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Branimir Gjetvaj, http://branimirphoto.ca/)

Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Branimir Gjetvaj, http://branimirphoto.ca/)

Old Man on His Back Ranch

Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area (Photo by Branimir Gjetvaj)

Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area (Photo 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 13,095-acre (5,300-hectare) ranch will be protected forever.

Plains bison

Since 1995, NCC's Saskatchewan Region has conserved this prairie grassland ranch, leasing areas and fields for sustainable cattle grazing and managing genetically pure plains bison. In 2003, NCC introduced a herd of genetically-pure plains bison to OMB. NCC manages the property as a working ranch and showcases the positive relationship between agricultural land use and land conservation.

Nocturnal preserve

Nestled in natural darkness from sunset to sunrise, OMB was designated a Nocturnal Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2015, making OMB the Nature Conservancy of Canada's first nocturnal preserve in all of Canada. This property has attracted both novice and seasoned star-gazers and naturalists, who visit the ranch to experience the vast natural prairie and dark night skies.

20 years of grassland conservation at OMB!

Throughout 2016 NCC is celebrating 20 years of grassland conservation on this flagship property, featuring OMB as a tribute to long-term land stewardship and a great source of NCC pride. This year and every year, visitors to OMB can also view the plains bison, learn of Saskatchewan's early settlers, and view a host of wildlife that live on and love this land. 

Sharon and Peter Butala at Old Man on His Back, Saskatchewan (Photo by Todd Korol)

Sharon and Peter Butala at Old Man on His Back, Saskatchewan (Photo by Todd Korol)

 
Cultural history

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.

Conservation values

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.

In the summer of 2011, a burrowing owl den was spotted here for the first time in eight years.

Plains bison calves, Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Don Getty)

Plains bison calves, Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Don Getty)

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.

Come visit us!

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 interpretive centre is open weekends from mid-May to the end of September. For information on hours of operation, local travel conditions or to arrange a visit during the week, contact Lindsay Cherpin, NCC's OMB interpreter at 306.296.7363.

(Click to enlarge)

(Disclaimer: All visitors to NCC properties do so at their own risk.)

Partners

The Nature Conservancy of Canada conserved the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area in partnership with Peter and Sharon Butala, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture. Additional conservation partnerships are helping restore cultivated lands back to native grasses in this area.

18 comments

  • Thom September 07, 2016 - 10:09
    I look forward to more information on how i can support this initiative

  • Li August 17, 2016 - 3:06
    What a gift Sharon and Peter Butala have given to the world. Thank you so much!

  • Aaron February 18, 2016 - 6:04
    This is very cool! From the information I have gathered, this quarter is where my great-grandfather, Dan Schlabach, homesteaded in 1917! Amazing to see the work being done, especially reintroducing the native species! I hope to visit someday.

  • Nathan January 26, 2016 - 8:20
    I am interested in knowing what weekend this summer (2016) will be the weekend for the Conservation Volunteer Work at the Old Man On His Back Ranch? We are hoping to make travel plans for two family members to visit and work! Where can I find out this information? Thank you! :)

  • Sharon January 20, 2016 - 4:12
    Thank you for your interest in this great NCC property. The name of this ranch is said to be derived for any of the following three theories. The first theory is that the name came from a silhouette of a deceased old man, lying on his back, embedded in the distant contours of the rolling prairie and surrounding hills. Another theory involves a similar resemblance of rock formation on top of one of the nearby hills. The third theory takes the name from the landscape of receding glaciers of thousands of years ago. It is believed that on the rolling prairie there is a silhouette of a Blackfoot warrior named Napi, who the First Nations say was wounded in battle, walked to the nearby village of Eastend and returned to the area and lay on his back to rest. Interestingly, the puss from Napi’s infected wound was said to form the layer of high quality white mud porcelain clay that runs through the Eastend hills today, clay that is still mined and used by potters.

  • Mrshappy January 19, 2016 - 9:27
    How did the name "Old Man on his back" come to be?

  • john November 21, 2015 - 8:50
    my uncle Alex Walmark owned the Bar 76 ranch in Piapot until early 1970's . as a very young person of 12 years old I spent 2 summers with him on that ranch . I believe it was 12 sections with sheep and aberdeen angus cattle. i believe he owned it in the 1940's Thanks for preserving this environment

  • Anonymous September 10, 2015 - 10:00
    I had a great time at the Conservation Weekend. A weekend is not enough time. I hope to be back to hike some of the trails.

  • Wally March 02, 2015 - 6:49
    I am planning a visit OMB this summer. I wish I could volunteer for any projects in the furture.

  • Anonymous October 23, 2014 - 2:30
    Hi there, I'm interested in visiting this special place that looks highly promising. Does anybody know if the numerous tepee rings to be found in the area are accessible? I'd love to see some nice specimens in this original setting. Bye, Markus.

  • moe October 16, 2014 - 3:46
    Where is the site?

  • Lexner September 08, 2014 - 5:59
    When is the Buffalo roundup, and is it open to the public?

  • BJ September 03, 2014 - 8:13
    A sacred time with the land. First we cd see pronghorn, then buffalo silhouetted on the endless skyline. We felt the ancestors of our vast and exquisite prairie. Special thanks to the Butalas and all who facilitate this conservancy. We recommend this trip highly.

  • Kailey August 24, 2014 - 10:49
    A truly incredible place! One of the last few places you can experience the vastness of the native prairie. All thanks to the Butala's and NCC.

  • Anonymous June 19, 2014 - 4:45
    I was unaware of Old Man on His Back until searching for places to explore north of Havre. Looking forward to a visit.

  • Jim April 11, 2014 - 2:58
    thanks!

  • Anonymous January 07, 2014 - 2:39
    Just finished reading Sharon Butala's book "Lilac Moon: Dreaming of the Real West" which is how I came to this website. Would love to visit someday, but might just have to dream it! Am a member of the Couchiching Conservancy in Ontario so know of the great work the NCC does!

  • Best January 03, 2013 - 5:05
    especially about Saskatchewan

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