In Memory of Devon Comstock

Jim Davis

Author: Gena Goodman-Campbell  |  Published: January 31, 2022  |  Category: Profile

At the end of 2021, we lost a former staff person and longtime member of the ONDA community, Devon Comstock.

Witty, wise, curious, hilarious, brutally honest and kind, Devon never hesitated to speak up for what was right, and especially for the wild creatures of the high desert.

While many newer members of the ONDA community never had the opportunity to get to know Devon, she left an indelible mark on ONDA’s work to protect the Greater Hart-Sheldon, and on all of us who worked alongside her.

Devon started with ONDA in 2007 as our membership coordinator, quickly becoming close with ONDA volunteers and staff alike. Devon’s passion for wildlife and birds made her a natural fit to move into the Hart-Sheldon Conservation Coordinator role in 2011, in which she oversaw, among many other achievements, the removal of the last barbed wire fence from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.

I had the pleasure of sharing an office with Devon, and soon caught her contagious passion for birds and birdwatching. During spring migration season, we were frequently distracted by bird sightings out the office windows. I owe much of my knowledge of birds, especially hawks and owls, to her. Devon also taught me how to attract birds by making various sounds, and in her gentle and kindred way, she was always able to get bird visitors to curiously linger a bit longer with us.

In addition to her serious passion for wildlife and wild places, Devon had a seriously silly side. She loved costumes and parties, especially Halloween. When it was finally time for the stewardship trip to remove the last barbed wire fence from Hart Mountain, Devon made sure the trip was a befitting celebration by packing a bin full of hats, wigs and costumes (resulting in hands-down the funniest photos ever taken on an ONDA trip) and getting custom cupcakes made with perfect little pronghorn frosted on top, which she carefully packed in a cooler to ensure they survived the high desert heat.

Devon left the ONDA staff in 2012 to pursue her dream of working as a wildlife biologist, a goal she achieved over the last eight years with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She remained a well-loved member of the broader ONDA community, attending Annual General Meeting and going on frequent sojourns to Oregon’s high desert with the many friends she made during her time at ONDA. In 2010, she wrote this essay, The House of the Birds, about one such backpacking trip on the West Little Owyhee River.

In honor of Devon and her legacy, here are a few brief remembrances shared by a handful of her many friends. In collecting these memories, it became even clearer that Devon left a lasting mark on the hearts of all those she crossed paths with. She is so deeply missed.

watch

Time Lapse: a night at Canyon Camp in six seconds

Time Lapse: a night at Canyon Camp in six seconds

watch

Discover Desert Pronghorn

Discover Desert Pronghorn

voices

Nate Wilson-Traisman, member since 2019

Nate Wilson-Traisman, member since 2019

“My greatest hope is that Oregon’s desert continues to gain public lands protections, and is guarded from unsustainable development, so that future generations may benefit from all the region has to offer.

I felt inspired by trips to Oregon’s high desert, and was actively searching for ways to contribute to the protection of these wild places. ONDA stood out as a leader in this respect, and when I’ve had money to contribute, ONDA has been a clear choice.”

“I don’t recall exactly where I first met Devon … but it was probably in 2009, and I definitely remember thinking: this person is awesome. Devon was warm, funny, whip-smart, huge-hearted, and passionate about the natural world – qualities that were immediately evident to anyone who had the good fortune to know her. Whether she was hosting an exhibit opening of stunning Wild Desert Calendar photographs at a Portland gallery or leading a fence-removal stewardship trip at Hart Mountain, Devon’s love for wild places and critters shone through in all that she did. I will always hold these memories close, and know that the Pacific Northwest is a better place thanks to Devon’s science-driven, heart-centered, kindness-filled generosity of spirit.”

– Gilly Lyons, ONDA Board President

At work with WDFW’s pygmy rabbit program, 2014

“Devon, probably half my age, reached out to me to offer her friendship. She was such a refreshing personality – warm, honest as hell, outspoken and smart. She would say the things that needed to be said that others were afraid to say and I loved her for that. I admired her for going after the career she wanted, even if it was disruptive and hard. There was a lot to love and admire about Devon and I did.”

- Miriam Lipsitz, a longtime ONDA volunteer whose weekly volunteer days in the office were fondly known as “Miriam days”

“Devon was ONDA’s sparkplug membership coordinator. With a deep commitment to the Wild, Devon was a straight shooter with high energy and a knack for making volunteers and members feel welcome and at home.”

– Bill Marlett, ONDA’s first executive director and current senior conservation advisor

At the Last Hart Mountain Fence Pull, 2012

“Devon could always be counted on for her quick wit and deep and unrelenting passion for nature. I remember how excited she was to geek out with a new sagebrush pocket guide as she passed along copies to everyone in the office. Devon was equally likely to quote a recent wildlife research paper as an essay ... Her humor, candor, and friendship will be deeply missed by those of us who had the pleasure to know and spend time with Devon over her too few years. However, her commitment to wildlands and wildlife will be a loss to even those who didn’t have the good fortune to know her.”

- Brent Fenty, ONDA’s executive director during Devon’s time on staff

Backpacking in the Owyhee Canyonlands, 2012

“I first met Devon in 2009 at ONDA’s celebration of the newly designated Badlands Wilderness area. Through the years I volunteered on many stewardship trips Devon led for ONDA, and I also went on many adventures with Devon, her husband Sean, Jim Davis and other friends out in eastern Oregon, to the Trout Creek Mountains, Oregon Canyon Mountains, and of course Devon’s favorite place, Hart Mountain.

Some say in this world there’s the family you are born with, and the family you gather along the way; Devon and Sean have long been a part of my Oregon Family. I will miss not being able to text her about what kind of bird is at my feeder. I will forever remember her when I visit Hart Mountain. I see her now creeping in a grove of aspen, along Rock Creek; intensely looking and listening for what bird sign may appear.”

– Cregg Large, ONDA member and volunteer

“By far the most adventurous and fun backpack I’ve had and Devon was there. Down an Owyhee side canyon in the rain, turning the desert vibrant green and orange. Devon was in her element, enjoying the wildness and solitude of the backcountry, like it was her truest nature. She took charge to pull a tick out of my leg, also her true nature. To lead while being there for others.”

-Katya Speicker, ONDA’s development coordinator during Devon’s time on staff

“Devon and I did many winter raptor surveys together east of Bend in the Millican Valley. She was such an expert and so enthused about raptors. I remember seeing a dark Red-tailed Hawk, which was just a “Red-tail” to me but she was so excited that it could be a Harlan’s. I had to get up to speed quickly, both of us looking through our scopes at details. That opened up a wider world to me, the value of looking beyond the obvious, scrutinizing and being excited when something didn’t look right.

More people came to the Green Ridge hawk migration counts because of Devon and her enthusiasm and encouragement. She showed the same enthusiasm about sage grouse work around Hart Mountain.

How many people are just crazy wild about their work? Devon showed it.”

– Judy Meredith, East Cascade Audubon Society and ONDA member