2019 Conservationist of the Year

Aaron Tani

“I knew the forests of Central Oregon really well, but the desert was all new to me. The colors of the landscape and the views … just wow.”  –ONDA member Gary Evans

Meet Gary Evans, ONDA’s 2019 Conservationist of the Year

Like many of us, Gary Evans found out about ONDA through a friend. And, again like many of us, that introduction to the desert soon translated into a determination to steward this special place. What set him apart and made him our choice for 2019 Conservationist of the Year* was his enthusiasm and his sheer volume of participation.

In his first year as an ONDA volunteer and member, Gary advocated for public lands, made a significant membership contribution and took part in 10 multi-day stewardship trips.

“After working with Gary on my first trip of the season, I was very glad to see him on the roster for my second trip, and then my third trip, and then my fourth,” said Riparian Restoration Coordinator Jefferson Jacobs, adding, “His commitment and hard work have had a significant impact on the many projects he has been involved in and we all appreciate that.”

What is it about the desert that inspired him to be so generous with his time, voice and financial backing? Gary said, “I have seen how our national resources have been destroyed. With government cutbacks, the public needs to help out even more.”

As Gary noted, “All the people I meet working with ONDA have been interesting in their own way, with their different backgrounds.” And, in that regard, Gary is no different, as he has his own interesting background and life experience. A member of the Cree Indian Nation, he grew up in Yakima, Washington, where he worked on his dad’s apple and pear ranch as a teen, before joining the Army. After his service, Gary worked in Pacific Northwest sawmills for 30 years and, then in Texas, as a diesel technician for the last 10 years. Recently retired, Gary now lives in Madras. When he’s not deep in the Pacific Northwest backcountry, that is.


Wildflower Poetry Reading

Wildflower Poetry Reading


Young Desert Horned Lizard

Young Desert Horned Lizard

In the summer these lizards begin foraging for food as soon as their body temperature rises as the heat of the day increases. They feed on slow-moving, ground-dwelling insects. In the fall they hibernate by burying themselves in the sand.

Latin name: Phrysonoma platyrhinos


Jeremy Fox on Steens Landscape

Jeremy Fox on Steens Landscape

Denny Jones Ranch Restoration Crew

Gary Evans, second from left, took part in ten stewardship trips in 2019.

Cottonwood Canyon Restoration Crew

Over the course of 2019, Gary Evans, third from left, contributed hundreds of hours to the desert.

In addition to regularly volunteering in the wilderness with both ONDA and U.S. Forest Service, Gary also embarks on ambitious climbing and backpacking trips, which shows in his physical stamina. “I had the pleasure of hiking into the South Fork Crooked project with Gary, and, by that, I mean I tried to keep up with the ambitious pace he was setting,” said ONDA’s Communications Manager Lace Thornberg.

Since every place he volunteered was brand new to him, Gary would try to come out six hours early to hike and explore before the stewardship work began. He said, “The areas that made the biggest impressions on me were Denny Jones Ranch, South Fork Crooked River and Steens Mountain.”

In the coming year, Gary is interested in diving deeper into the history associated with the desert places he visits and volunteers in. If you join an ONDA trip in 2020, there’s a good chance you’ll meet him.

*This award was previously known as Volunteer of the Year. We’ve changed the title to better recognize the holistic nature of the commitment our volunteers make to the high desert.