Sage Society: Sustaining Desert Conservation

Renee Patrick

Retired science teacher Scott Bowler is a proud member of ONDA’s Sage Society, the community of advocates and donors who live their values by sustaining critical conservation efforts year-round with monthly contributions.

We recently spoke with Scott about his decades-long commitment to sustaining Oregon conservation efforts through volunteering, advocacy, and the Sage Society.

ONDA: Tell me about your connection to Oregon’s high desert.

Scott: In 1982 I signed up for a class on high desert natural history based out at Malheur Field Station. After five incredible days in May, I came home sporting a t-shirt that had a giant mosquito and the caption “I gave blood at Malheur,” having added several dozens of new birds on my life list, taken photos of perhaps a hundred new plants, and absolutely enthralled by Steens Mountain and the Oregon high desert. While still wanting to explore more of the Steens, in 1983 I went further east and signed on to a Sierra Club exploration of the West Little Owyhee River, hiking and swimming from Anderson Crossing down to Three Forks.

I had NO idea what I was getting into then, but that exceptionally wild and crazy trip changed my life. I have a serious love for the Owyhee Canyonlands as well as the Steens, and I have been back out there several times a year ever since.

How did you first learn about ONDA?

I found ONDA while researching hiking the “desert trail” in about 2002 or so. I’d heard about and wanted to hike across the top of the Steens down through the Pueblo Mountains. Somewhere on the web I stumbled upon ONDA, who were listed as a “desert trail resource.” Turns out that ONDA was looking for volunteers to hike down Wildhorse Canyon and remove barbed wire fencing. That sounded cool, and the trip really was fantastic (and became legendary due to the antics of a couple of seriously underprepared participants.) I’ve been a teacher since 1981, and became instantly hooked on fence removal because I felt that it helped keep me sane in my career. It’s such a great antidote to the intensity, stress and people pressure inherent in teaching. Barbed wire doesn’t talk back, for one, and the work demands a totally different mindset and simpler focus than teaching.

Why do you support protecting public land in central and eastern Oregon?

The desert speaks for itself, but very softly. It’s clear to even an occasional, albeit aware and observant, visitor that it isn’t at all like other places. It seems at first a very rugged, tough and enduring landscape. As you walk across the land it’s so wide and open that you feel like you can just go anywhere you want and not hurt a thing. But if you look down you notice that each footfall disturbs the cryptobiotic crust, the wildlife is exposed, way out in the open and easily seen for miles, and what seems so uniform (oh boy, look, more sagebrush…) is actually an incredibly diverse and vibrant community made up of hundreds of species, many of them unique only to this particular landscape and its special biological communities.

Plus, it’s truly like no place else! It’s really truly wild. It’s amazingly DARK at night, and there really are things out there that exist nowhere else on Earth. It’s just so different, fragile and unique that it just has to be protected!

Why did you become a monthly donor in ONDA’s Sage Society?

Honestly, I signed up for monthly giving with ONDA primarily to prevent my membership from expiring and receiving reminders. It’s simpler for me to have smaller amounts automatically deducted from my credit card each month, rather than thinking about sending a larger sum each year. I also appreciate that it gives ONDA consistent and predictable support year-round, so it’s a win-win!

What would you like to see ONDA accomplish next?

ONDA is an amazingly effective organization and is doing vital work on many fronts, all of it important. I think it needs to continue to broaden its reach and voice. Thus, I’m most committed to two things that I’d like to see ONDA do: promote and enable discovery of the amazing beauty and recreational opportunities of the high desert by much broader groups of people; and especially to protect forever the full and diverse landscape of the Owyhee Canyonlands, a place without parallel or equal in our country.


Make 2017 the year you commit to living your values and sustaining conservation with an ongoing monthly gift to ONDA! Joining the Sage Society is simple, and it allows you to support critical high desert conservation year-round. Set up your monthly gift from your checking account or credit card today.