Three Amazing High Desert Inhabitants

J. Hertz

voices

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, ODT thru-hiker 2017

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, ODT thru-hiker 2017

“To me, it’s a thru-hike in an isolated place that promotes a conversation in land management, ethics and usage. Hiking across a vast and remote landscape and having a random and chance encounter with cowboys and hunters to discuss how ‘all of us’ should treat the land, how we all have a responsibility, no matter our political leanings, really showed me the pulse of the people in rural areas, especially here out west.”

voices

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

“I connect with Oregon’s high desert through my feet, my eyes, my sense of smell, and all the things I hear. Getting out there is a whole body experience.” Supporting ONDA, Helen says, not only connects her with wild landscapes, but is also a good investment. “I felt like if I gave them $20, they might squeeze $23 out of it.”

fact

Swallowtail

Swallowtail

The Oregon Swallowtail butterfly is the official state insect of Oregon and a true native of the Pacific Northwest. The Swallowtail can be seen in the lower sagebrush canyons of the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Snake River drainage area.  Source: State Symbols USA

Latin name: Papilio oregonius

Wilson's Phalaropes

Visit Lake Abert at the right time and you could see up to 100,000 Wilson’s Phalaropes.

J. Hertz

The Flyer

Wilson’s Phalaropes are peach and gray shorebirds that breed in marshlands across the West that embark on a truly amazing journey each year.

But, first, to prepare for their southbound migration, Phalaropes will vortex feed, swimming in a tight circle to bring food to the surface. Phalaropes can double their weight in just a few weeks time by eating almost continuously, a process called hyperphagia. Sometimes, they eat and grow so much in those few weeks that they aren’t able to fly. (We can relate to this feeling.) When they do leave the lake, bound for South America, they will travel roughly 5,000 miles in a single push – thought to be done non-stop – and shed most of the weight they put on.

Pacific Lamprey

The Pacific lamprey is one of the oldest living vertebrates on earth.

Dave Herasimtschuk   Website

The Ancient

You know that saying “as old as the hills?” Well, Pacific lamprey are older.

Paleontologists have found Pacific lamprey fossils as old as 450 million years old, which means that this anadromous species that plies the rivers of Oregon’s high desert today predates dinosaursby more than 200 million years.

In the Columbia River Basin, the Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes place a high value on the Pacific lamprey as a cultural, spiritual, ceremonial, medicinal and subsistence resource since time immemorial, and it’s easy to see why this species has earned so much respect.

Unfortunately, the species that has endured volcanic eruptions and colossal floods has suffered dramatic population declines in the 150 years of the Anthropocene, as hydropower development has blocked fish passage and a variety of human activities, such as water diversions, construction, chemical treatment and mining, have degraded their natural habitat.

Pygmy Short-horned Lizard

You’ll be amazed by how the pygmy short-horned lizard survives the harsh winter in the Northern Great Basin.

Alan St. John

The Freezer

You may have heard these guys referred to – incorrectly – as a horned toad, but the proper name for this tiny lizard that rarely grows to more than seven centimeters in total length is the pygmy short-horned lizard.

And, here’s the crazy part: recent field studies have disclosed that short-horned lizards routinely hibernate by burying in sand just a few centimeters below the surface, freezing solid for months at a time. When the warmth of springtime arrives, the lizards thaw unharmed.

Remarkable for an ectothermic reptile at the Northern Great Basin’s latitude, the pygmy short-horned lizard has been recorded living in the stunted sagebrush and bunchgrass habitats of the region’s mountain summits at nearly 2400m elevation. In these zones that are snowbound for months on end, short-horned lizards spend the majority of the year in hibernation.

Oregon’s high desert remains a stronghold for the sagebrush steppe ecosystem. However, the natural systems found here are also among the most threatened in all of North America. Your vigorous support for policies that protect this unique environment makes all the difference for the 350+ species that live in delicate harmony with the high desert today.
SOURCES

Three Amazing High Desert Inhabitants

Oregon’s high desert is a land of many superlatives. You’ll find North America’s fastest land mammal here, as well as its largest fault block mountain. Perhaps most intriguing are the ways that the plants, animals and insects that call the high desert home have evolved over millennia in ways that allow them to survive...

Read More

The Creation Story
and the Malheur Cave

For the Paiute of the Great Basin of the American West, winter is storytelling season. Around the fires of Paiute camps and villages, storytellers passed on tribal visions of the animal people and the human people, their origins and values, their spiritual and natural environment, and their culture and daily lives. The book “Legends...

Read More

A Conversation with
Kim Stafford

Author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, Kim Stafford is Oregon’s Poet Laureate for 2018 to 2020. He follows after Elizabeth Woody, who served as Oregon’s Poet Laureate from 2016 to 2018, and is the second Stafford to serve as Oregon’s Poet Laureate; his father, William Stafford, served in this role from 1974...

Read More

Give yourself a pat on the back! You accomplished so much for Oregon’s desert this year! Flip through this year in review for just a handful of the many great stories to come out of 2018.

Read More

A Gift Appreciated Worldwide

ONDA’s Wild Desert Calendar Goes Abroad Giving a Wild Desert Calendar as a gift has become something of a tradition among a number of ONDA members. So, where do all these calendars go? We asked a few of our longtime calendar givers — members Susie Neubauer, Patty Giffin, Terry Butler, Sidney Henderson and Mark...

Read More

Q&A with ONDA’s
new executive director

Over the course of two decades in the nonprofit sector, Ryan Houston has developed a reputation as a committed and effective leader in Oregon conservation, well known for strategic vision and a dedication to collaboration. We’re thrilled to welcome him as Oregon Natural Desert Association’s third executive director and we’ve pulled together a few...

Read More


Meet Mac Lacy

ONDA has protected millions of acres of public land throughout Oregon as a result of winning or successfully settling more than 85 percent of our federal actions since 2001. We hope this Q&A helps you get to know Mac Lacy, our senior attorney, and to understand the important role he plays at ONDA. You’ll even...

Read More

Wild and Scenic Rivers

The Wild and Scenic Rivers of Oregon’s Sagebrush Steppe. America’s rivers face many threats — dams and alteration, excessive use and pollution among them. Thankfully, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which passed in 1968 with bipartisan support, gave people who care about rivers a tool “to preserve rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and...

Read More

High Desert Speaker Series 2018

Eastern Oregon is an incredible place to live, work and explore, with thousands of stories just waiting to be revealed. ONDA’s popular High Desert Speaker Series features knowledgeable and inspiring storytellers who bring the intriguing aspects of this vast region to light. So far in 2018, we’ve dived into the region’s geologic history, the...

Read More