New nocturnal preserve provides clear night sky for stargazers

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
A stargazer looks at the night sky above the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.

A conservation area in southwest Saskatchewan has become the first nocturnal preserve in the province where stargazers can enjoy the clear night sky.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced July 28 that the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB) ranch has been designated as a nocturnal preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).
“This is definitely a first for the Nature Conservancy of Canada,” NCC Saskatchewan Communications Manager Sharon Rodenbush said. “It’s a first for a nocturnal preserve in Saskatchewan as well and it’s only the second designation that has been awarded.”
The RASC awarded the first nocturnal preserve designation in Canada to the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area in Alberta July 23.
The title of nocturnal preserve is the newest of three designations under the RASC’s Dark Sky Preserve Program, which is aimed at the protection of quality night sky and the reduction of light pollution.
“It’s important to provide recognition for the ranch and it’s also important for both wildlife and humans, realizing that dark night skies are of tremendous value for wildlife,” she said.
The preservation of the nocturnal environment is of ecological importance for wildlife and protecting the dark night sky is therefore part of the overall conservation effort at OMB ranch.
“Darkness at night allows them to rest, to grow, and to hide from predators,” she said. “So darkness helps with the balance.”
This designation indicates the OMB ranch is an ideal habitat for wildlife, but it will also be an added feature to attract more visitors.
“This newest designation provides awareness and opportunity for novice and more advanced astronomers to come to the area and enjoy our night skies,” Rodenbush said.
The NCC had to comply with the RASC’s requirements for outdoor lighting to achieve the nocturnal preserve designation.
“We had to have an area with very limited illumination at night,” she said. “We’ve never had signs that are lighted. So our signage will continue to be only reflective or non-lighted, using outside lights only when necessary and having barriers so that it does not illuminate a large area.”
The 13,135 acres (5,316 hectares) of the OMB ranch is one of NCC’s flagship projects in Saskatchewan to protect native prairie grassland.
“The Nature Conservancy of Canada allows on foot only access to anyone,” Rodenbush said. “So if someone would like to enjoy the natural prairie and the grasslands in the Old Man on His Back ranch they’re most welcome to do so.”
The ranch is located west of the village of Claydon.
There is an interpretive centre that is open weekends and statutory holidays from mid-May to the end of September. An interpreter is available to provide visitors with more info about the area.
“If you contact the interpreter, she can be there to provide information and usually that’s what people want do to,” Rodenbush said. “They want to learn a little bit about the area and our interpreter has a wealth of knowledge.”

The OMB ranch receives about 300 visitors each year. They are mostly from Canada, the United States and also Europe. She noted the ranch appears to have special interest for Europeans, probably because of the wide open spaces.
People will visit the OMB ranch for a number of reasons. Some want to learn more about the history and culture of the area, others are interested in the variety of plants, insects and animals on the ranch while many are curious to see the genetically-pure plains bison that the NCC manages on the ranch.
“Lots of them come once a year at that annual conservation volunteers event to help out,” Rodenbush said. “They come to just help with whatever needs to be done, whether it’s painting a building or putting caps on fence posts so that young birds don’t fall down hollow metal fence posts, counting different species of flora or fauna, helping our staff recording what is out there.”
The NCC will host the annual conservation volunteer event at OMB ranch from Aug. 14-16. Volunteers will assist NCC staff to count bison calves, check hawk nests and place caps on fence posts. An additional feature is a presentation at 5 p.m. Aug. 14 by guest speaker Chris Beckett, a Saskatchewan member of the RASC Light Pollution Abatement Committee.
For more information about the conservation volunteer event or to register, send an e-mail to

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

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