From Washington, D.C., to the Canyons of the Owyhee

Author: Karly Foster  |  Published: May 7, 2024  | Category: Look Back

From the nation’s capital to its rugged canyons and surging waters, ONDA traversed the country advocating for the Owyhee Canyonlands, joining more than 40,000 people who support permanent protection for the landscape, now.

Oregon Natural Desert Association seeks to protect more than one million acres of public lands in southeastern Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. We envision an Owyhee where plant and animal communities flourish, wildlands are preserved, and local communities thrive. We are privileged to have led the decades-long effort to protect this iconic landscape that has now culminated in hundreds of tribal representatives, elected leaders, businesses, organizations and stakeholders also supporting permanent protection for Oregon’s Owyhee.

Our shared campaign has registered remarkable progress over the past month.

From the Steps of the Capitol

Last month ONDA joined the national “Monumental Call for Action” in Washington, D.C., to deliver more than 40,000 petition signatures to the Biden administration in support of designating an Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument. The Protect the Owyhee campaign has gained attention nationwide, rising to become one of the most prominent conservation initiatives in the country.

Broad and diverse support for the Owyhee includes:

  • Community, organizational and political support from every corner of Oregon
  • More than 30 eastern Oregon businesses
  • Dozens of elected leaders statewide
  • Over 100 recreational and outdoor industry business supporters
  • Hundreds of businesses, organizations and associations representing 17 million people nationwide

This growing and influential coalition for protecting the Owyhee Canyonlands is astonishing!

Flying High Over the Owyhee

Upon returning from Washington, D.C., our Owyhee advocacy continued as we joined local and national media to fly over this majestic and irreplaceable landscape. The event generated important news coverage and greater public awareness of the need and opportunity to permanently protect the Owyhee.

Through the Depths of the Canyon

Finally, and even as we marveled at the Owyhee Canyonlands from the plane above, a member of ONDA’s team joined eager rafters on a 6-day float down the Owyhee River, educating river enthusiasts about the need for landscape-scale protection for the beloved river canyons and beyond.


Follow along with photos from these events.


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.”


Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

“Protecting public land is part of my spiritual being. It’s central to my identity to be in wilderness and to see it protected.” Durlin is proud to protect public lands for future generations, saying, “The highlight of my childhood was our family’s weekend outdoor trips. I look forward to my grandchildren having similar experiences outside in their lifetimes, and it wouldn’t be possible without ONDA.”


Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

The Protect the Owyhee campaign attracted national attention at the “Monumental Call for Action” event on the steps of the nation’s capitol

ONDA’s executive director, Ryan Houston, teamed up with Tim Davis, founder and executive director of Friends of the Owyhee and Eddie Melendrez, Ontario City Councilmember, on a trip to Washington, D.C. They joined forces with Bend’s beloved environmental activist and drag queen, Pattie Gonia, in advocating for designation of an Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument on the steps of the capitol. The group met all week with elected leaders and administration officials to share the immense public support for protecting the Owyhee.

Photo Credits: Image 1 – Ryan Houston with his daughter, Caitlin Houston, Eddie Melendrez, and Tim Davis, shared our massive “support book” documenting the broad, deep public support for protecting the Owyhee Canyonlands with congressional offices. Photo: Teal Lehto, Image 2 – Eddie Melendrez, Ontario City Councilmember, spoke at the Monumental Call for Action event. Photo: Chris Ferenzi, Image 3 – Pattie Gonia dazzled as they spoke on behalf of the Owyhee at the Monumental Call for Action. Photo: Chris Ferenzi, Image 4 – Ryan Houston with Pattie Gonia. Photo: Teal Lehto

Joining national and local news media to fly over the Owyhee

The week following the national monuments event in Washington, D.C., ONDA joined tribal representatives and sporting organizations to host news media in a flight over the Owyhee Canyonlands. They camped at Succor Creek and then took to the skies to see the immense grandeur of the landscape. The group explored special places nearby and even saw sage-grouse perform their zany annual mating ritual on the vast, intact sagebrush sea of the Owyhee.

Photo Credits: Image 1 – Owyhee advocates with local and national reporters hiking in Leslie Gulch. Photo: Skyler Vold, Image 2 – Views of the Owyhee from the plane. Photo: Sophia Kaelke, Image 3 – Ryan Houston joins journalists on the plane to fly over the Owyhee. Photo: Mary Jo Brooks, Image 4 – Ryan Houston reviews maps with news media in the Owyhee. Photo: Karly Foster, Image 5 – Skyler Vold, sage-grouse conservation coordinator with the Oregon Deptartment of Fish and Wildlife, takes a crew to view sage-grouse on a lek in the Owyhee. Photo: Mary Jo Brooks

Inspiring and humbling river views of the Owyhee Canyonlands

While two of our ONDA team were flying the skies above the Owyhee Canyonlands, Hana Sant, our Development Manager, was braving the surging spring runoff on the Owyhee River. Hana educated her fellow rafters on the immense conservation opportunity of the Owyhee that was also easily seen, felt and heard by her party on their six-day float. Rafters took action by signing letters to elected officials urging permanent protection for the waters, wildlife and wildlands of Oregon’s impeccable, irreplaceable Owyhee.

Photo Credits: Image 1 – Chalk Basin. Photo: Hana Sant, Image 2 – Rafters entering the Owyhee River. Photo: Tim Davis, Image 3 – Morning camp with views of Ship Rock. Photo: Hana Sant

Public engagement is essential to efforts to secure protection for public lands, waters and wildlife in Oregon’s high desert. Learn more about ONDA’s work to protect the Owyhee and take action to support conservation of Oregon’s most treasured desert landscapes. And, if you want to make your voice heard, add your personalized message to our Kudoboard requesting President Biden and Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley to make the Owyhee Canyonlands our nation’s next national monument.