Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area

Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area

Instrumental Home for Bison Recovery Highlighted

June 18, 2016
Claydon, SK


Nature Conservancy of Canada Celebrates 20 Years of Grasslands Conservation at Old Man on His Back Ranch in Saskatchewan

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), a not-for-profit land conservation charity, is marking 20 years of grasslands stewardship at its Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area (Old Man on His Back), a 13,095 acre (5,300 ha) ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan.

Old Man on His Back was purchased by NCC, with a portion donated from Peter and Sharon Butala in 1996. Old Man on His Back is the home for the recovery of plains bison and conserving native grasses for them to feed on. NCC transported 50 plains bison to Old Man on His Back in 2003, fulfilling a vision of reintroducing the species to its historic grazing grounds. Now that bison numbers have recoverd a little, they are contributing to the quality and health of these native grasslands.

A formal celebration is happening at Old Man on His Back this Saturday involving NCC officials, land donors and local residents.

NCC has conserved this prairie grasslands ranch, leasing areas and fields for sustainable cattle grazing, and managing genetically-pure plains bison here. NCC manages Old Man on His Back as a working ranch, designed to showcase the positive relationship between agricultural use and land conservation.

"It is hard to believe that we are already celebrating 20 years of Old Man on His Back as an NCC flagship property," says Mark Wartman, Regional Vice President witih the Nature Conservancy of Canada in Saskatchewan. "Old Man on His Back is an iconic prairie landscape, beautiful rolling hills and a sea of native grass. The former owners, Peter and Sharon Butala, loved this ranch and were determined to make sure this amazing grassland would be conserved and cared for in perpetuity. Working with NCC and the Saskatchewan government, the Butalas offered a generous land donation to enable this conservation project to proceed."

"We (NCC) committed to use leading conservation science to manage and steward their beloved land forever. With that understanding, Peter and Sharon agreed, and so with the support of some significant donors, Old Man on His Back became an NCC property. Today we are able to celebrate the foresight, vision and determination that has made Old Man on His Back such a tremendous success. It's a clear example of how sustainable agricultural practices and conservation science can go hand in hand, benefitting both people and wildlife. With the support from many major donors, NCC now owns most of the land and has a generous endowment that enables us to care for it. It is wonderful to recognize this significant milestone in a perpetual journey," Wartman continued.

"I am delighted to participate in this anniversary. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is proud to have helped conserve this special place," said NCC President and CEO John Lounds. "Old Man on His Back has been a beacon for grassland conservation and provides crucial habitat for a host of wildlife."

Old Man on His Back was designated a Nocturnal Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) in 2015. This designation has attracted both novice and seasoned star-gazers and naturalists to observe the vast natural prairie and dark night skies. Visitors can also view the genetically-pure plains bison and learn of Saskatchewan's early settlers.

"We are delighted that NCC has chosen to certify its Old Man on His Back ranch as a Nocturnal Preserve and strictly control outdoor lighting on its property and from nearby sources," says Richard Huziak, RASC. "Conserving a natural environment must also include conserving the natural darkness of the night as not to alter the biological cycles of the flora and fauna that inhabit the grasslands and rely on darkness for foraging, hunting and health. Old Man on His Back Nocturnal Preserve contains some of the darkest remaining skies in North America. Seeing the stars as well as we do from this ranch is a measure of the success of the dark-sky program."

Old Man on His Back is near Eastend and Consul, and located about two hours by vehicle south of Swift Current. It is also near the Grasslands National Park. NCC owns and operates an interpretive centre here which is open now until early October.


Old Man on His Back spans 13,095 acres (5,300 ha) of rich prairie grasslands in southwestern Saskatchewan, part of the Milk River Basin. The Milk River Basin is the only watershed that drains into the Gulf of Mexico.

Natural grasslands conservation is crucial because grassland ecosystems are in peril. Prairie grasslands are home to diverse species of wildlife, from golden eagles to swift fox, loggerhead shrike to white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope to the monarch butterfly and Sprague's pipit, a host of grassland birds, and more.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading private land conservation organization, protecting vital natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped conserve more than 2.8 million acres (1.1 million ha), coast to coast, with over 150,000 acres (60,700 ha) of ecologically significant lands in Saskatchewan.  Visit:  www.natureconservancy.ca/sk

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