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Halvor Tweto | 04.13.2017

It’s been three decades since a Bend resident took out a newspaper ad and spread the word among like-minded friends: Come by Thursday night if you’re interested in protecting public land in Oregon’s high desert. At that time, few were paying attention to the amazing natural values of the more than 13 million acres of public land on the state’s dry side. Yet these lands are filled with natural treasures ripe for exploration by boat, bike or foot.

Salmon and steelhead swim up the John Day River Basin, surrounded by rolling hills of spring wildflowers and offering fishing, hiking and paddling. The rugged red rock of the Owyhee Canyonlands offers campsites with solitude and stargazing like none other. The expansive wildlife habitat of the Greater Hart-Sheldon Region is an amazing place to view wildlife. It’s home to roaming herds of pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep, as well as the imperiled Greater sage-grouse.

It was clear to those who gathered that evening: If we were to retain these amazing places, the desert needed a voice. The small band decided on a name for the new group – the Oregon Natural Desert Association. They all kicked in $5 to get started.

Fast-forward 30 years and the fledgling nonprofit, also known as ONDA, has grown to 10,000 members and supporters. It remains the only organization that focuses exclusively on Oregon’s high desert public lands.

The efforts of ONDA’s dedicated desert lovers have led to significant strides for conservation in eastern Oregon, from the designation of the state’s first three desert wilderness areas (Steens Mountain, Oregon Badlands and Spring Basin) to the removal of roughly 2,400 tons worth of obsolete barbed wire fence at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, allowing wildlife to move freely. ONDA created the Oregon Desert Trail, winding through 750 miles of scenic desert, offering paddling, biking and hiking in various sections.

And the work continues, particularly in a growing Owyhee Coalition urging for permanent protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands. These efforts have made the Owyhee a state and national conservation priority. With concern for the future of our public lands, ONDA’s work is evermore critical today.

Explore Oregon’s high desert wild lands. Then get involved in our efforts to protect public lands in Oregon’s high desert at ONDA.org.

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