Old Man On His Back Ranch

Saskatchewan

The Old Man on His Back Ranch and Heritage Conservation Area is one of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s flagship Saskatchewan projects, and part of the largest remaining grassland environments left intact in Canada. Considering they once covered about one-quarter of the earth’s land surface, Old Man on His Back Ranch serves as a beacon of hope for protecting the remaining grasslands in our country.

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Land

It gives us a place to go to where we can be still, where we can be quiet, where we can get away from the business of everyday life.”
- Helen Godschalk (NCC Conservation Business and Systems Manager)
map of the Old Man On His Back region

Old Man On His Back, Saskatchewan

49° 13' 0 N

109° 12' 0 W

The Region

Glaciation was the primary architect behind the creation of Old Man on His Back Ranch and other prairie areas alike. These glacial deposits from inland seas are now the fertile plains that define this land – a land that is now overwhelmingly influenced by agriculture. Under the protection of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Old Man on His Back Ranch and the wide range of life residing here can flourish in peace, kept safe from further detrimental land development.

13,135
Acres Forever Protected

-52°C / 45°C

Old Man on His Back Ranch has a semi-arid climate and experiences extreme temperature variations, with lows of -52 °C and highs of 45 °C.

Upland

Comprised of rolling hills and grassy slopes, Old Man on His Back Ranch is a home to a large variety of grazing wildlife. It’s an excellent example of Canada’s remaining mixed prairie grasslands.

28-36 cm

The region receives 28-36 centimetres of precipitation per year.

Life

It’s being able to go stand in the middle of a prairie and hear the birds calling and see the flowers blooming… you can’t really put a price tag on it. It’s just something serene. It’s beauty.”
- Joseph Kotlar (NCC Stewardship)

Wildlife

Old Man on His Back Ranch provides an extensive habitat for many wildlife species. Because of the vast, open landscape, grasslands are home to both large herds of grazing animals and smaller mammals that use the tall prairie grass for food and shelter.

Plains Bison

Plains Bison

  • Bison are the largest land mammals in North America and peaceful by nature, but with an unpredictable temperament, they can become hostile if threatened. They are very protective of one another and will ferociously defend their young, using their massive heads and horns as battering rams.

  • 2,000 lbs Weighing in at 2,000 pounds and standing up to 1.8 metres tall, bison are the largest land mammals in North America.

  • 60 km/h Bison can run over 60 km/h and turn faster than a horse.

  • 20-40 yrs Life expectancy is 20-40 years.

  • Bison feed mainly on grass, plants and sometimes berries.

  • In the early 1800s, an estimated 60 million wild plains bison roamed the continent. By the turn of the century, over-hunting had decreased their numbers to a mere 300. As settlers headed west, close to 90 percent of the original grasslands in Canada were converted for agricultural and other purposes.

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Swift Fox

Swift Fox

  • The swift fox is a nocturnal and territorial species, spending more time underground in burrows than any other mammal in the dog family. Completely wiped out in Canada in the 1970s, the swift fox has recently made a comeback, with crucial conservation efforts helping to restore more stable populations.

  • 5-7 lbs One of the smallest foxes in the world, it’s roughly 30 centimetres tall, 80 centimetres in length, and weighs around 5-7 pounds.

  • 60 km/h The swift fox gets its name for its speed, running up to 60km/h.

  • 3-6 yrs Their life expectancy is 3-6 years.

  • Swift foxes are omnivores and eat rabbits, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, mice, birds, reptiles, amphibians, berries and seeds.

  • During the 20th century the swift fox completely disappeared from the wild in Canada due to habitat destruction. In the past, the swift fox population was also impacted by predator control programs aimed at wolves and coyotes. 600 swift fox remain in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse

  • This chicken-like species performs a unique courtship ritual imitated by First Nations People for their own customs. Like many other grouse species, the male greater sage-grouse is not a reliable father figure, leaving the mother to raise the youngsters on her own.

  • 56-75 cm The largest grouse species in North America, they are 56-75 centimetres in length. Males weigh 4-6 pounds.

  • 1.5 yrs They live about 1.5 years, but in some special cases up to 10 years.

  • Sagebrush comprises 100% of their winter diet, with leaves, buds, stems, flowers, fruit, and insects being a staple during the other seasons.

  • Fewer than 150 adults remain in Canada due to habitat loss.

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Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

  • The burrowing owl is the black sheep of the owl family, often active during the day. It also nests in the ground, rather than in trees, taking up residence in the abandoned burrows of ground squirrels, badgers, and foxes.

  • 21.6-28 g About 21.6-28 centimetres long, they weigh between 170-214 grams.

  • They migrate to the southeastern United States and Mexico in September, and return to Canada in April.

  • Grasshoppers and beetles are the burrowing owl’s preferred food source. They also eat mice, voles, ground squirrels, toads, small birds, and carrion.

  • As with many endangered species, one of the main dangers the burrowing owl faces is habitat loss caused by the conversion of grasslands for agricultural purposes. Today, fewer than 1,000 pairs live in Canada.

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Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

  • Due to its body type and personality, the ferruginous hawk is often confused with an eagle. They nest in trees and they’re the only American hawk to have feathers down to their toes, much like the rough-legged hawk and the golden eagle.

  • 56-69 cm The ferruginous hawk is the largest American hawk, growing 56-69 centimetres in length and weighing 2-5 pounds.

  • They eat rabbits, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs.

  • This species of hawk is under increasing threat from habitat loss. As of 2005 there were less than 1,200 pairs left in Canada.

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Northern Leopard Frog

Northern Leopard Frog

  • Northern leopard frogs get their name from the dark spots on their body. They can be found in ponds, swamps, marshes and other small bodies of water, and are generally eaten by larger wildlife, including snakes or raccoons.

  • 7.6-12.7 cm They range from 7.6-12.7 centimetres in length.

  • They’ll feed on anything that fits into their mouth, often eating beetles, ants, flies, worms, smaller frogs (including their own species), and even birds and garter snakes.

  • They were one of the most common frog species in North America until the 1970s. Since then, populations have declined due to habitat fragmentation and loss.

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Plant Life

With nutrient rich soils throughout, Old Man on His Back Ranch is an ideal habitat for the 150 species of plants that exist here, each adapted to withstand temperature extremes, varying amounts of rainfall, and grazing animals.

Blue Grama

Blue Grama

  • 15-30 cm Grows 15–30 centimetres tall and makes up 75-90% of all the plants found on the Prairies.

  • Grazing, cold, and drought tolerant.

  • When its natural cycle is disturbed, it can take as long as 50 years to replenish.

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Prairie Junegrass

Prairie Junegrass

  • 30-60 cm Reaches heights of 30-60 centimetres.

  • With a strong root system, prairie junegrass can withstand very strong winds, snow, and extreme heat.

  • Usually eaten by wildlife during the summer season. Songbirds and other small mammals enjoy eating the seeds.

  • Blooms in May and July.

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Needle-And-Thread

Needle-And-Thread

  • 30-90 cm Grow in small bunches. Seed stalks grow 30-90 centimetres in length.

  • A favoured food source for the white-tailed jackrabbit.

  • Appears in the early spring or when moisture is available. Seeds mature in early summer.

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Western Wheatgrass

Western Wheatgrass

  • 40-60 cm Plant growth is vigorous, with seed heads reaching heights of 40-60 centimetres.

  • Cold and grazing resilient, western wheatgrass is also able to survive fires if in its dormant stage.

  • A valuable forage for bison.

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Silver Sagebrush

Silver Sagebrush

  • 30-150 cm Reaches 30-150 centimetres in height.

  • An important winter food source for the greater sage-grouse.

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Red (Scarlet) Globemallow

Red (Scarlet) Globemallow

  • 10-40 cm 10-40 centimetres in height. There are approximately 500,000 seeds per pound.

  • They flower from May to October.

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The Plains Bison Initiative

With the help of Toshiba and the Land Information System, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is able to identify threats, reverse dangers, and record crucial discoveries. ‘The Plains Bison Initiative’ is one of the many ways Old Man on His Back Ranch is being protected.

Threat

Threat

The conversion of grasslands for commercial, industrial, recreational or even agricultural development leads to losses of native grass species. When these lands are transformed for alternate uses, the rich nutrient soils are depleted, making it difficult and sometimes impossible for these native grasses to recover.

Action

In 2003, the Nature Conservancy of Canada introduced 50 bison to Old Man on His Back Ranch. Roaming free and growing in numbers, they are ensuring the integrity of the ecosystem, since bison evolved here historically and had a tremendous influence on the prairie region. Replenishing marginal lands back to grasslands and reseeding over time has also aided in the survival of this land.

Action

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