Going Public: Becoming a Public Land Leader

Brittany Leffel hosted a Public Land Leader gathering in December and wrote about her experience “going public”.


Behind every beloved trail is a crew of stewards working to preserve the trail. Likewise, behind every wilderness area and national forest are people speaking up for our public lands.

I’ve always taken pride in my outdoor experiences and I love to share how we can grow when we immerse ourselves in nature. But like many people who enjoy exploring public lands, I am not always as swift to defend the policies that make sure our land is there for us to enjoy.

Brittany Leffel exploring Oregon’s high desert

When I moved to Central Oregon about a year ago I knew I wanted to expand my activism, but I didn’t know where to get involved. In my native state of Colorado, I worked on stewardship projects but never served as a leader. When I heard about the Public Land Leaders program that the Oregon Natural Desert Association launched last year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a new role.

ONDA created this program to make it simple and fun to talk with your friends and family about public lands in Oregon’s high desert and to encourage others to speak up for these lands. The wonderful thing about the program is that you are empowered to choose how to execute your outreach. ONDA provides a tool-kit of resources to help guide you, but you get to decide the best way to engage your community.

Being new to town, it was hard to know where to start. Through my family, I had the opportunity to connect with Temple Beth Tikvah. They host an event called “Shabbat with Purpose” four times per year, and we were able to host the final gathering of the year at my aunt’s house to talk about public lands.

We set the date to host our gathering on December 9th way back in September. Little did we know President Trump would officially announce the reduction of two national monuments on December 4th.

This gathering was timely and urgent!

Urgency can be compelling. We had a great turn out and everyone brought a dessert to eat while we all mingled. We chatted about the Owyhee Canyonlands, favorite hiking trails—all before the official discussion started!

I opted to give a short presentation about public lands to get everyone on the same page. With the reductions of two national monuments, I wanted to help the group understand the basics of how federal public lands and state lands are managed, and how the policies for governing national monuments affect public lands.

I included videos, maps, and casual dialogue in my presentation to help ease everyone into the topic. I started out by showing a few basic videos about public lands, which helped me feel like I didn’t need to be an absolute expert to lead the discussion. Everyone had their maps open, pens and paper out, ready to take notes.

I found that this casual type of grassroots advocacy easily translates into participation and collaboration. It wasn’t solely me speaking up. The group generated their own food for thought and directed the conversation towards issues they were most concerned about. Two topics that stood out were what the administration’s proposed reductions mean for Cascade- Siskiyou National Monument and the communities nearby, and why the differences between state and federal lands aren’t discussed more frequently.

Newly empowered, the group took home postcards to write to their elected leaders and requested links for the videos, so they too could talk to their friends about why public lands are so important. This is what advocacy is about: Sharing values and finding new ways to come together with your local community so they can get inspired to speak up for public lands.

Learn more about ONDA’s Public Land Leaders program and sign up to host your own gathering to inspire your own community to act on behalf of public lands.