Restoring Lands and Waters

Oregon Natural Desert Association sustains and enhances the health of Oregon’s high desert through stewardship and restoration.

While much of our wild terrain is beautiful and pristine in many ways, human actions over time have negatively impacted some areas. ONDA takes a holistic approach to conservation in Oregon’s high desert, pairing intensive on-the-ground stewardship with efforts to protect large landscapes. ONDA partners with land management agencies, private landowners, and tribal entities to undertake long-term restoration projects to improve land, waterways, wildlife and communities in Oregon’s high desert.

ONDA coordinates three programs to connect people to landscapes in need of care:

  • Stewardship Trips – for people looking for a guided, small group, multi-day service trip in some of Oregon’s most remote and beautiful landscapes
  • Independent Stewards – for people looking to give their adventures an elevated sense of purpose and gain new skills
  • Tribal Stewards – for Indigenous young adults looking to gain career experience in natural resource management and connect with their current and ancestral homelands.

And, ONDA stewardship work can be sorted into four main categories:

Read on to learn about what’s involved with each type of restoration work and to learn about the wild places where we’ve made a long-term commitment to restoration.


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.”


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  


Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Trips

ONDA works with hundreds of volunteers, students, seasonal field technicians, and nonprofit partners to get great work done. Our stewardship trips provide plenty of natural history education and opportunities for exploration, allowing volunteers to deeply connect with these landscapes. And, did we mention that these trips are lots of fun?

Find a Trip

River and Stream Restoration

ONDA pays close attention to the health of desert rivers and streams because these waterways are the lifeblood of Oregon’s high desert. Add in the changing desert climate — less rain, warmer temperatures and stronger storms — and our riparian restoration work takes on greater urgency.

From planting trees along stream banks to building in-stream structures that mimic beaver dams, each action we take is part of a thoughtful restoration approach guided by the best available science.

Our aim: Cool, clear, and enduring waters that support thriving populations of fish, wildlife and people

Featured projects

Upland Restoration

Across Oregon’s desert lands, barbed wire fences once used for livestock fragment the landscape. Many of these fences no longer serve a purpose and can harm wildlife. ONDA and partners have removed hundreds of miles of fence from the land. Where barriers are needed, we convert barbed to safer smooth wire. With each fence project we complete, ONDA supports wildlife and restores natural beauty to the land.

Our aim: Giving wildlife safe passage through the landscape


Featured projects

Wildlands Monitoring

ONDA’s wildlife survey volunteers help to monitor Greater Sage-Grouse leks or other sensitive species such as raptors and mule deer on trips that are conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

ONDA’s wilderness inventory volunteers collect critical information that helps ONDA document the conditions found in proposed wilderness areas. Participants collect GPS referenced photos to demonstrate that the area meets the requirements of wilderness: naturalness, opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, and scenic and wildlife value.

Our aim: Providing high-quality data that wildlife agencies can use while managing sensitive species and  identifying wild lands that are suitable for wilderness designation

Featured projects

Trail Maintenance

ONDA’s trail maintenance work is focused on improving access to stretches of trail in the Fremont National Forest and on Steens Mountain that overlap with the Oregon Desert Trail. Working in partnership with the Forest Service and other local community groups, we are addressing critical safety concerns and promoting conservation in the region.

Our aim: Helping people connect deeply with the high desert landscape through muscle-powered recreation and gain a sense of responsibility for desert public lands

Featured projects

“There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us.” - E. O. Wilson