Championing Public Lands in Washington, D.C.

Author: Karly Foster  |  Published: April 6, 2023  |  Category: Look Back

A week in the nation’s capitol spent advocating for public lands and conservation in Oregon’s high desert, told by ONDA Campaign Manager Karly Foster:

My week in Washington, D.C., last month began with a statement to the news media: 

“President Biden has called for protecting 30% of our public lands and waters by 2030, and in Oregon there are imminent opportunities to help reach this goal,” said Karly Foster, Campaign Manager with Oregon Natural Desert Association. “This week I’m asking leaders to support protecting Oregon’s high desert public lands and rivers, including the Owyhee Canyonlands and wildlife corridors in the Greater Hart-Sheldon.”

In early March, I traveled to Washington D.C., to advocate for public lands, waters and wildlife in Oregon’s high desert. Hosted by Conservation Lands Foundation, I was part of a contingent of  representatives from the Friends Grassroots Network, a group comprised of partner organizations from across seven western states who advocate for public lands conservation. 

It was a wild, busy, productive week. I met with representatives and administrative offices, attended trainings to discuss national conservation priorities and shared the important issues affecting Oregon’s high desert.



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!”


Discover Desert Pronghorn

Discover Desert Pronghorn


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  

Elevating Public Lands Conservation as a National Priority 

My colleagues and I prioritized a set of public lands issues of national concern, then trained ourselves for meetings on the “Hill” with legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. No matter who was on our schedule, what region of the country they were from, or where their political affiliation lies, we were prepared to explain the importance of conserving public lands for all Americans. I was ready to talk about national monuments and other conservation designations, needed funding for the Bureau of Land Management, and an important new policy the bureau has proposed to elevate conservation, wildlife habitat connectivity and tribal co-stewardship of public lands. The proposed new regulation was officially announced by the bureau this past week and will also include new direction for the agency to provide for land health and climate resilience on the public domain.

Prowling the Halls of Congress

I was pleased to meet with legislative staff from a number of states, including Representative Dina Titus of Nevada. Pictured below, Rep. Titus’s conservation leadership helped to secure designation of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada, a key desert landscape in the Great Basin.

I also met with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s staff to discuss important conservation issues and opportunities in the high desert, including the threats posed by the new Mountain Home Air Force Base jet fighter training plan, protections for Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands, and opportunities to conserve wildlife habitat in the Greater Hart-Sheldon. 

Additionally, I had the chance to meet with the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. Speaking to Policy Aide, Qay-liwh Ammon,  and Staff Director for National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Sub Committee, Brandon Bragato, I presented a multitude of overlapping issues and conservation efforts in the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Descending on the Department of the Interior

We then scrambled across town to the Department of the Interior to meet with Director Tracy Stone-Manning and Principal Deputy Director Nada Culver of the Bureau of Land Management.  We delved into ONDA’s new graphics on the importance of the Greater Hart-Sheldon to pygmy rabbit, pronghorn and greater sage-grouse. The bureau is working on several planning processes in this region to ensure that these public lands continue to support resilient habitats and wildlife migration corridors.

Enjoying Washington, D.C.

In between meetings and after hours, I took in some of the incredible sights in Washington, D.C., including touring through the U.S. Botanic Garden, attending the National League of Conservation Voters reception at the Library of Congress, and snapping a photo of my favorite artwork of the entire trip: carvings of moose in the Department of the Interior building. But, my favorite experience of all was the incredible food the city has to offer!

This One’s in the Books

I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about civic engagement and how to uplift conservation opportunities on public lands in Oregon and the west, and I look forward to building on the new relationships and momentum we created to benefit our conservation campaigns. Conversations we began on Capitol Hill and with the Biden administration will carry forward to the work we do together in the high desert. Stay tuned for ways you can continue to be part of these efforts! And remember, always wear gel inserts while advocating for conservation all day on marble floors…