In 1987, a group of community members based in and around Bend, Oregon realized that the high desert lands and waters they loved had no one dedicated to their protection.
In the three decades since the Oregon Natural Desert Association was founded, this community has protected and restored millions of acres of Oregon’s high desert and grown to welcome members across Oregon and beyond.
Building a strong community of desert advocates to speak up for public lands and take part in hands-on restoration projects year after year is our most important achievement. To learn about work in progress, check out the latest issue of ONDA’s newsletter. And, for a year-by-year recap of the work we’ve accomplished, see our Annual Reports.
Select milestones from years past include:
ONDA continues to lead a diverse coalition of conservation, sporting, recreational, business and tribal interests to advocate for permanent protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands. We helped produce the latest, best version of the Malheur Community for the Environment Act and unveiled a complementary Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument campaign.
For the first time in its history, the Oregon State Legislature passed legislation to improve conservation and management of Lake Abert and the hundreds of thousands of birds that depend on this fragile and unique ecosystem. ONDA joined other local, regional and national partners in drafting the bill and advocating for its enactment.
A decade in the making, ONDA completed the South Fork Crooked River restoration project that added more than 25,000 trees to the river corridor to restore wildlife habitat and improve climate resiliency.
ONDA mobilized advocates and coordinated with tribal members and communities to organize opposition to an industrial scale mining proposal that would eliminate habitat for greater sage-grouse, pronghorn, Lahontan cutthroat trout and many other species in southeast Oregon’s McDermitt Caldera.
After more than two decades of ONDA’s inventorying, analyses, litigation and advocacy, the Bureau of Land Management released a new plan to protect more than 400,000 acres of public lands for wilderness values in southeastern Oregon, the most ever proposed in a single BLM district.
ONDA celebrated 10 years of the Oregon Desert Trail, a long-distance trail that showcases the beauty and wonder of the high desert and connects thousands of people to conservation issues and advocacy opportunities.
With the help of many volunteers and staff, ONDA submitted a 2,200-page report to the BLM pressing the agency to conserve wilderness values on nearly 800,000 acres of public lands in the greater Steens Mountain region.
ONDA was instrumental to enactment of critically important beaver conservation legislation in the Oregon State Legislature that will especially benefit high desert ecosystems and waterways.
On behalf of our members and supporters, ONDA delivered a 1,100-page inventory to the Bureau of Land Management identifying the 114,000 acres of public lands that should be managed for wilderness character on Steens Mountain. ONDA also documented, in a second 1000-page report, more than 180 miles of obscure, nonexistent, illegal routes on Steens Mountain that should be closed to protect wilderness and other values.
ONDA launched a campaign to save Lake Abert, Oregon’s only hypersaline lake that is essential habitat for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway.
To improve wildlife habitat, ONDA established a new partnership with Lakeview District of the Bureau of Land Management to remove and retrofit fences in a key pronghorn migration corridor.
ONDA welcomed our largest cohort of Tribal Stewards to date, coordinating five weeks of field work that introduced these Indigenous young adults to natural resources and conservation careers.
Over the course of the year, ONDA led 30 stewardship trips and hosted 20 independent projects across the high desert to complete much-needed restoration work.
ONDA spearheaded efforts that resulted in the introduction of legislation to establish a Sutton Mountain National Monument in the John Day River Basin.
The ONDA community advocated for more than 1,000 miles of desert waterways which were included in the River Democracy Act.
With the support of long-time donors, ONDA launched the Hillis Internship, a paid internship program that offers young people a more equitable pathway to become our next conservation leaders.
ONDA completed a major, five-year-long project on Hay Creek, in the John Day River Basin, to improve watershed health and make critical habitat for steelhead and salmon more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
When Senator Wyden invited Oregonians to nominate rivers and creeks for inclusion in a statewide Wild and Scenic Rivers bill, ONDA rallied our members to nominate hundreds of miles of desert waterways for protection, from Whychus Creek to the Owyhee.
ONDA sustained strong momentum for Owyhee Canyonlands protection as the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee bill made progress in Congress.
ONDA watched over wildlife habitat across the desert, as we monitored over 500,000 acres of sagebrush steppe ecosystem, countered efforts to undermine sage-grouse protections, reduced pressure on bull trout habitat and supported intact wildlands for iconic Steens Mountain.
Our desert advocacy community grew significantly, as we welcomed 800 new members and hosted online events that reached thousands of people.
Despite COVID-19 canceling group participation by volunteers, we still planted 6,100 trees and installed 12 beaver dam analogs to enhance watershed health.
ONDA secured a better future for 1.1 million acres of public land in the Owyhee. In November, Sens. Wyden and Merkley introduced the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act, breakthrough legislation that would safeguard critical habitat in the Owyhee Canyonlands and enhance economic opportunities for Malheur County communities.
After urging by local community members and ONDA, Sen. Merkley re-introduced the Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Preservation and Economic Enhancement Act, legislation that would protect Sutton Mountain and create opportunities for Wheeler County communities to prosper.
ONDA protected Steens Mountain from unchecked road development. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered BLM to redo its motorized travel plan for the mountain because the agency had failed to gather the necessary information to ensure meaningful public participation and an informed agency decision.
Working in partnership with Northwest Youth Corps, ONDA launched a tribal stewards initiative to provide job experience and career mentoring in natural resources for Native young adults.
ONDA established the Oregon Desert Land Trust, a new initiative to preserve the wild character of Oregon’s high desert.
The Bureau of Land Management recognized 1.6 million acres in the Greater Hart-Sheldon Region for their wilderness character.
ONDA volunteers made 97,000 acres of wilderness safer for wildlife by pulling the final miles of barbed wire fence out of the cow-free section of the Steens Mountain Wilderness.
Our legal work protected Steens Mountain from industrial-scale energy development when a federal court ruled that the Department of the Interior had failed to consider the impacts of development on crucial winter habitat for the imperiled Greater sage-grouse.
In collaboration with five different land managers, we designed and launched an effort to cool and retain precious desert water by recovering beaver in the John Day River Basin.
ONDA protected Steens Mountain from the impacts of motorized vehicles when a federal court ruled that the Steens Act of 2000 prohibits off-road driving in the mountain’s spectacular Wilderness Study Area. By winning court decisions, protective injunctions, and settlements, ONDA’s legal action had already stopped the BLM from converting more than 125 miles of primitive or overgrown routes into roads on Steens Mountain.
ONDA’s participated in countless efforts that ensured that state and federal plans provided unprecedented measures to protect the sage-grouse from becoming an endangered species. To see that these conservation plans work as intended, ONDA conceived and launched a scientifically rigorous sage-grouse habitat monitoring protocol.
ONDA celebrated 10 years of partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to complete intensive John Day River Basin restoration.
ONDA and the Prineville district of the Bureau of Land Management signed a historic agreement to monitor public lands.
After years of effort by diverse stakeholders, including ONDA, the Malheur Wildlife Refuge adopted a strong Cooperative Management Plan, one that strengthens cooperation and employs science-based management actions to benefit wildlife.
ONDA and Ruby Pipeline signed an agreement which established the Greater Hart Sheldon Conservation Fund to preserve lands and wildlife corridors.
After thousands of hours devoted to compiling route information, creating maps, gathering GPS tracks and waypoints, ONDA established the Oregon Desert Trail, a 750-mile route traversing through some of the most spectacular natural areas of the state’s dry side.
ONDA won a precedent-setting case that required the Bureau of Land Management to acknowledge wilderness values across 7.8 million acres of public lands and to assess future management to protect these areas.
ONDA led successful grassroots campaigns which established the Oregon Badlands Wilderness and Spring Basin Wilderness. Thousands of members of the Central Oregon community and major employers participated in these campaigns.
Through legal action, ONDA protected critical steelhead and bull trout habitat in the John Day River Basin from the impacts of chronic overgrazing.
ONDA helped ensure that the Upper Deschutes Resource Management Plan retired grazing permits and closed all roads in the Badlands Wilderness Study Area, therefore managing it as de facto wilderness.
ONDA helped wolves survive in Oregon, by pushing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to undertake a planning process and eventually adopt a management plan for endangered wolves.
ONDA led a historic collaborative effort that established the Steens Mountain Wilderness, the first wilderness area in Oregon’s high desert.
ONDA’s successful legal work protected the Wild and Scenic Owyhee River corridor. This river ecosystem, rich with willows and redband trout, was being damaged by livestock grazing.
ONDA helped sensitive populations of pronghorn antelope and sage grouse on Hart Mountain by pressuring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove livestock grazing from the mountain.
ONDA members pioneered a method of citizen-led wilderness inventories later adopted by the Bureau of Land Management as a national standard.