Five years with NCC (part two)

Bison bulls at OMB in 2019 (Photo by NCC)

Bison bulls at OMB in 2019 (Photo by NCC)

March 25, 2020 | by Kylie McGregor

My first three years with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) were spent as an intern, working all across Saskatchewan. I also covered a maternity leave in southwest Saskatchewan, including managing the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB). Read part one of my blog here.

Life as Missouri Coteau natural area manager

Kylie standing at a beaver lodge at NCC’s Saskairie property, 2017 (Photo by NCC)

Kylie standing at a beaver lodge at NCC’s Saskairie property, 2017 (Photo by NCC)

When Natalie returned to work, I was granted the full-time manager position for the Missouri Coteau Natural Area (MCNA). The MCNA is comprised of 115 conservation agreements, and 18 fee-simple properties and complexes (properties owned and managed by NCC) . While none is as challenging to manage as a 5,260-hectare (13,000-acre) working ranch that is located five hours away from me (such as OMB), I really had my work cut out for me.

In the early spring of 2017, NCC and several other organizations conducted a prescribed burn on two different plots at OMB, so it wasn’t long before that southwest soil was beneath me again, even if only for a short while.

Kylie and Ashley at North Saskatchewan River, near NCC’s Maymont Complex (Photo by NCC)

Kylie and Ashley at North Saskatchewan River, near NCC’s Maymont Complex (Photo by NCC)

As summer approached in the MCNA, I really lucked out in getting some extremely hard-working and capable help — Marla and Ashley. Week in and week out, we were crushing it in every corner of the MCNA. We tackled a monster baseline project at the newly acquired Hole in the Wall property, survived tornado warnings in Radville and managed to cover an incredible amount of ground in a few months. At the end of the summer, Ashley went back to university and Marla moved into a full-time coordinator position with NCC. While I was happy for Marla, I really missed having her keeping me on track in my crazy Missouri Coteau world.

Doing double duty

Around the fall of 2018, Natalie announced that she would be going on maternity leave again. Fully knowing that my heart could not handle it if they brought someone else in to cover OMB, it was decided that I would take care of OMB and my existing MCNA role. After a third round-up under my belt, we welcomed Gabe, a new employee, to the strategic chaos that is the southwest sub-region of Saskatchewan.

Gabe had a few short months to ease into his new role before we delved into the 2019 field season. We pulled off a second prescribed burn at OMB in early spring, which came with its own set of duties and challenges for me, but I was glad to be back at my second home.

For three years, I had been dreaming and planning with Natalie on the improvements we needed to make at OMB, and it was time to make those dreams a reality. Another awesome addition, Kristen Martin, was hired to start updating the bison management plan, and take a lead role in managing the newly formed Indigenous Advisory Group for NCC in Saskatchewan.

Learning from Indigenous perspectives: A humbling experience

In May 2019, NCC’s Saskatchewan Region held an Indigenous Advisory Group meeting at OMB. People came from all over the province. As they arrived, the bison stood on the road and seemed to welcome them. We walked the land and listened to stories and experiences. We participated in a sweat lodge ceremony and shared a feast afterwards. We also shared our favourite part of the weekend, what we learned or anything else we wanted to convey. Staff learned how NCC can work toward incorporating Indigenous perspectives into our work. I was completely humbled to learn about how much this experience meant to everyone, and how much I look forward to continuing this work.

A whirlwind of a summer and fall

Gabe and I decided we would form a larger group with our interns and tackle the southwest sub-region together. Spending every waking hour with a group of people forces you into an unexplainable bond; we were like a family, travelling everywhere in Saskatchewan together. We often were joined by our supervisor, Mike Burak, who is knowledgeable and passionate about NCC’s work and fun to be around. By August, Gabe had moved to Maryland, and the interns went back to school.

September, October and November whizzed by, with the most notable events being the rearrangement and additions to our bison handling facility, and teh addition of five new bison bulls to the herd at OMB.

Workbee for the bison handling facility, OMB, 2019 (Photo by NCC)

Workbee for the bison handling facility, OMB, 2019 (Photo by NCC)

As always, the 2019 round-up proved to be exciting and challenging. This year, we removed the GPS collars from the bison cows, sorted out the calves and older bulls, and added the new bulls to the herd. I am glad that I can rely on so many of my NCC colleagues, all with their own special roles, at round-up.

Our neighbours and patrons are the ones with the most livestock experience, so they usually take on jobs like chasing the animals into the facility and running the head gate for restraining the animals.

To grow our relationship with the members of the Indigenous Advisory Group and their communities, various opportunities to acquire animals were given through the remainder of the week. In this time, most of the NCC staff had to return to the office and the rest of us relied heavily on the expertise and elbow grease of the OMB patron group to help move these animals around.

Thank you, OMB

As I reflect on my last five years with NCC, I’m waiting for the last load of bison calves to be off to their new home in the morning. I will then close the door to my second home, drive to my hometown and patiently wait for Natalie to resume her regular responsibilities out at OMB.

On the one hand, I will gladly welcome the lighter workload. On the other, I will probably be pleading for her to put me to work at OMB, and I hope to fit in some down time to catch up with the neighbours and patrons.

I am so grateful for these opportunities and these people who came into my life. You really can’t beat the company of the people in southwest Saskatchewan. I look forward to returning to OMB to see the bison cows in the spring of 2020. Until then, I know they are in good hands.

Kylie McGregor (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Kylie McGregor is the natural area manager for the Missouri Coteau Natural Area with the Nature Conservancy Canada.

Read more about Kylie McGregor.

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