Independent Stewards

David Hanson

Oregon Natural Desert Association’s Independent Stewards program offers volunteers a self-directed option for promoting a healthy high desert in addition to our structured option of guided stewardship trips.

How It Works

ONDA provides assignments and resources. Volunteers learn new skills and complete critical tasks on their own while giving their high desert adventures an elevated purpose. Stewards receive guidance from ONDA, but are primarily self-directed.

Why It Helps

Independent stewards are critical players in completing stewardship work in the high desert, and perhaps even bringing new stewardship needs to light as they explore Oregon’s dry side with a trained eye. The work our volunteers complete across eastern Oregon informs our conservation and legal work and underpins our ongoing commitment to protect, defend, and restore the high desert.


Bonnie Olin, 2017 Volunteer of the Year

Bonnie Olin, 2017 Volunteer of the Year

“If you spend enough time in the wild, it will change you. So it was for me in Oregon’s high desert, especially in the Owyhee Canyonlands.” To support ONDA, Bonnie says, is to strive to protect the very values of Oregon’s high desert that are critical to the human experience: quiet and connectedness with nature. “Oregon’s desert,” she says, “broadens your understanding of your relationship to all living things.”


Tibetan Monks Visit Sutton Mountain

Tibetan Monks Visit Sutton Mountain


Wind and Birds in Quaking Aspen

Wind and Birds in Quaking Aspen

Many of you were signed up to attend a group volunteer trip with us last year, but, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic upended all of our plans. We postponed or canceled all projects for most of last year.

Since then, ONDA has taken what had previously been a small element of our stewardship program and used it as the model for how we could get the most volunteers out into the field while still keeping each other safe and doing important work. For more details about what to expect this year, please watch the video above.


What will volunteering in the field look like in 2021? Read on…

Becoming an Independent Steward offers you the opportunity to add an element of service to your desert adventures this year. 

ONDA staff will provide training resources in a virtual platform, give you the context for how your projects will impact our conservation and restoration efforts, and put your data and observations to work on behalf of the high desert. We will provide tips on how to venture to these locales safely, and guide you in using the different technologies needed for the work. Most importantly, we want you to have a fulfilling experience. 

While we will miss our group trips and opportunities to build community with many of you, we hope you will take this opportunity to deepen your personal connection to these lands, learn something new while doing so, and get in some desert bathing time while social distancing in the sagebrush sea.

  • Step 1: Fill out the Independent Stewards application form below. At this stage, you will provide your skills, interests, and preferences for the types of projects you would like to do.
  • Step 2: Hang tight! Stewardship staff will reach out to gauge your interest in projects as they are available during the year. We will contact you at least four weeks before a project date. Feel free to block off some time on your calendar if you already know when you want to visit the high desert, these projects can be completed according to your schedule. Family members or households are also welcome to accompany you (we have specific information to pass on about these folks who may want to join you); you can even bring your dog, but please ensure they are also good stewards of the land and don’t go chasing wildlife.
  • Step 3: Complete your assignment. 
  • Step 4: Let us know how it went. After you complete your project, you will be asked to complete a report and send us the data you collected. Each project will look different, so we will explain specifics as we go. You can also use the hashtag #independentONDA on Instagram when you share photos from your project on social media (are you following ONDA’s instagram account yet? Find us at @theorgeondesert).
  • Step 5: Check in on everyone’s progress. We have developed a special Notes from the Field webpage which will track your progress and accomplishments throughout the year. Head here for stories and photos from your fellow independent stewards and to see if you won the monthly raffle prize.


Many of our ISP projects will fit into one of these categories:
  • Public Lands Monitoring
    Volunteers collect critical information that helps ONDA document the conditions found on public lands across the high desert.
  • Recreation/Trail Monitoring/Stewardship
    Volunteers monitor for recreation and overuse impacts on public lands and perform light trail-work activities.
  • Uplands Habitat Monitoring/Stewardship
    Volunteers help restore uplands sagebrush habitats through projects that promote wildlife migration and restoration of upland plant communities.
  • Riparian Habitat Monitoring/Stewardship
    Volunteers assist with a variety of riparian-specific monitoring and light stewardship on targeted high desert water ways.
  • Wildlife Monitoring
    Wildlife survey volunteers help to monitor species and habitat conditions of a variety of high desert flora and fauna.
  • Volunteering from home
    Support field-based volunteers with a variety of projects that can be completed from the comfort of your own home.


Questions? Reach us at

Sage Brown   Website

Sage Brown   Website

Sage Brown   Website


Michael O'Casey