Starry, starry night
OMB is now a nocturnal preserve!
Night sky at Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (Photo by Alan Dyer)
Nestled in relative natural darkness from sunset to sunrise, Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area (OMB) has been designated as a Nocturnal Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) and is the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) first nocturnal preserve in all of Canada.
OMB is a sprawling 13,000-acre (5,261-hectare) ranch comprised of grasslands and native prairie located in southwestern Saskatchewan. The ranch has very little intrusion from artificial lighting or any glow from nearby community and urban centres.
By day, the OMB ranch provides a rare opportunity to experience the ageless beauty of the natural Saskatchewan prairie, or perhaps view a herd of roaming plains bison that occupy the ranch — all of which is managed by NCC in Saskatchewan. By night, visitors can experience camping and quiet chats, gentle breezes and silence, all bathed in darkness. And on clear nights, an occasional moon and thousands of stars.
Night skies = sustained and healthy lives
Natural darkness at night has restorative qualities for wildlife as well as for humans.
Artificial night lighting can blind birds, causing some to fly into structures or become disoriented and change their migration routes. Mammals like wolves and coyotes may confuse their hunting and feeding patterns with predator and prey amidst shades of darkness and security. Plants respond to the length of darkness. When the darkness is interrupted by artificial light, plants will respond to the dark periods as two short nights and change their flowering and developmental patterns.
At night insects fly toward artificial light and are easy prey for birds and larger insects, leaving less food for frogs, bats, salamanders and other small mammals. Insects need darkness in which to breed.
Human health is more affected by light and darkness than we realize. Our immune system produces antibodies that protect us from disease during day, but at night we repair our immune systems to guard against infection. Artificial lighting interrupts our sleep patterns and can alter our hormone and immune systems.
The Nocturnal Preserve designation
OMB's designation as a nocturnal preserve by the RASC helps protect the natural rhythm of day and night skies on this ranch for the benefit of people and wildlife. Nocturnal preserves have minimal artificial light, non-lighted signage and structures that confine external illumination. As a nocturnal preserve, OMB offers visitors the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of a naturally dark night.
The designation, part of the Dark Sky Preserve program, is the newest of three RASC designations that aim to promote the protection of quality night sky and minimize light pollution. NCC's OMB Ranch is among the first in Canada to receive the nocturnal preserve designation. The RASC also awards the Dark Sky Preserve and the Urban Star Park designations.
"Few of us have truly experienced the joy and wonder of a dark night sky," says Natalie Nikiforuk, NCC natural areas manager for southwestern Saskatchewan. "This designation is ideal for OMB, with opportunity for all to experience: visitors young and old, astronomers and star-gazers who are amateur or professional, poets and artists and more."
"We are very proud to have been awarded this designation," says Mark Wartman, regional vice-president of NCC's Saskatchewan Region. "The importance of protecting dark night skies and less light pollution is just beginning to be understood. In addition to land conservation, NCC now accommodates another aspect of our natural environment: that of dark night skies!"
"Artificial night light can change the night environment with a profound impact on the ecological balance of an area," says Robert Dick, chairperson of the Light Pollution Abatement Committee of the RASC. "Preventing outdoor lighting, or at least minimizing its impact, is a major step in the overall protection of our nocturnal environment. And NCC's OMB ranch is an ideal setting as a nocturnal preserve."