“A diverse and magical place”

Beth Macinko

Tribal Stewards reflect on the 2021 season

In early July, we introduced you to the 2021 Tribal Stewards crew. Now that they have wrapped up their five-week session of restoration and conservation projects on Oregon’s desert lands and adjacent watersheds, we wanted to share their accomplishments and highlights from the season.

After starting their session with trail and upland sagebrush habitat projects, the crew worked on riparian restoration and fisheries monitoring projects along tributaries of the John Day River and the Malheur River, two of ONDA’s priority river basins.



What defines Oregon’s high desert?

What defines Oregon’s high desert?

Bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Blue Mountains to the north, Oregon’s high desert covers approximately 24,000 square miles. Annual rainfall in the high desert varies from 5 to 14 inches. The average elevation is 4,000 feet; at 9,733 feet, the summit of Steens Mountain is the highest point in Oregon’s high desert. The terrain of the high desert was mostly formed by a series of lava flows that occurred between 30 and 10 million years ago.

Sources: The Oregon Encyclopedia; Wikipedia  


Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

“Protecting public land is part of my spiritual being. It’s central to my identity to be in wilderness and to see it protected.” Durlin is proud to protect public lands for future generations, saying, “The highlight of my childhood was our family’s weekend outdoor trips. I look forward to my grandchildren having similar experiences outside in their lifetimes, and it wouldn’t be possible without ONDA.”




Found only in North America, where it is the most common wildcat, the bobcat takes its common name from its stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The cats range in length from two to four feet and weigh 14 to 29 pounds. Bobcats mainly hunt rabbits and hares, but they will also eat rodents, birds, bats, and even adult deer.

Latin name: Lynx rufus fasciatus


The crew and Forest Service staff in front of the newly completed fence along Little Crane Creek


Looking back on their season, the crew found some of the most physically challenging projects were the ones they were proudest of, including:

  • Hiking rugged terrain during the June heat wave to remove juniper from 170 acres, restoring open sagebrush habitat for greater sage-grouse.
  • Maintaining beaver dam analogs to promote continued riparian restoration along Camp Creek.
  • Learning to fly fish to catch and remove invasive brook trout from the Strawberry Mountains.
  • Building over 500 feet of wooden buck and pole fence (in just two days!) and repairing wire fence to protect critical bull trout habitat.

In addition to the sense of accomplishment at completing work projects, the crew was also proud of the community they were able to build with each other. The crew laughed together at falling in beaver holes along stream banks, shared fun times catching invasive crayfish for dinner and swimming in Magone Lake, and supported each other through challenges.

Fishing for invasive brook trout at High Lake


Seeing parts of Oregon they hadn’t been to before was yet another highlight of the program. When asked how they’d describe the desert, the crew gushed:

“A diverse and magical place.”

“Some of the best sunrises in the world.”

“The beautiful wildflowers.”

“Fast-flowing rivers running through it like veins to feed the forests and desert.”

“Seeing the stars clearly.”

“Full of bugs and animals and birds.”


The crew gained more experience in fields they were already familiar with, like fisheries and range fence work, and were introduced to new fields, like paleontology and wildlife biology. Seeing the day-to-day work of different conservation careers helped members see pathways they may be interested in exploring later on.

We’re grateful to Duane, Audie, Mo, Wes, Cam, Parish, and Diamond for taking part in the Tribal Stewards program this year. While this desert-focused session is over, most of this Tribal Stewards crew is continuing on to a second session of projects along the Columbia River Gorge and we wish them a successful rest of their season!

Beth Macinko

Conducting fish surveys with Burns Paiute Tribe along Lake Creek