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 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 a long-time donor, 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.



Taylor Goforth, Sage Sustainers member

Taylor Goforth, Sage Sustainers member

“I support ONDA on a monthly basis as a way I can keep in touch with the root of my conservation ethic and allow for their strong advocacy work to keep going. I count on them!”


The Land Between: The Greater Hart-Sheldon Region

The Land Between: The Greater Hart-Sheldon Region


John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.