2021 in Review

Mark Darnell


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  


Owyhee Canyon Swallows Sparrows and Rushing Water

Owyhee Canyon Swallows Sparrows and Rushing Water


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.”

Key Progress and Milestones

Getting a Monument Proposal

Together we achieved a major goal in our campaign to conserve important wild areas in the John Day River Basin with the introduction of legislation that would establish a Sutton Mountain National Monument. The new proposal for a 66,000-acre national monument will preserve the country between the Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Beds.

Read Our Press Release
Owyhee River as seen from above

Setting a Strong Agenda, Pushing Back Against Bad Ideas

We advocated for more than 1,000 miles of desert waterways to be protected as Wild and Scenic Rivers in the River Democracy Act and made great strides in our campaign to preserve a million acres in the Owyhee. We also defended against misguided management actions proposed across Oregon’s high desert public lands, weighing in on issues ranging from wildlife management in the Greater Hart-Sheldon to expanded military training in Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands.

Learn about the River Democracy Act
monitoring the desert

Leading Hands-on Restoration

After a pivot to a COVID-safe independent steward restoration model, we surpassed 6,000 volunteer hours contributed to caring for desert public lands. Volunteers planted nearly 17,000 trees, restored more than 500 acres of sagebrush habitat, maintained dozens of miles of trail and a whole lot more to improve the health and resiliency of the desert ecosystem.

Learn More About Stewardship
Tribal Stewards crew poses with Forest Service staff in front of newly built fence at Little Crane Creek

Introducing Young People to Careers in Conservation

ONDA hosted another cohort of Tribal Stewards, Indigenous teens and young adults taking part in a paid, career mentorship program, and we hired our first-ever Hillis Intern. Both Tribal Stewards and the Hillis Internship offer increasingly equitable avenues for young people to become our next conservation leaders through paid internships.

Read the story behind the Hillis Internship

Read reflections from the 2021 Tribal Stewards

Inspiring and Welcoming Desert Advocates

To foster a sense of wonder and curiosity about the diverse ecosystems and landscapes of the high desert, we hosted over a dozen events, produced a short documentary and published several multimedia story maps. As we highlight the desert and engage people in advocating for it we are taking steps at each juncture to ensure we are building a culture that welcomes everyone who is interested in conserving Oregon’s high desert.

Immerse Yourself in the Desert
To see more highlights from this year, as well as years past, please visit our Accomplishments page.
Thank you for the essential role you play in this desert conservation community!

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The Perfect Gift
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Healthy Escapism

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