Oregon Natural Desert Association

This month, we’d like to introduce you to Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), an organization that has been working to protect, defend, and restore Oregon’s high desert for over 25 years.

Read on for a message from Brent Fenty, ONDA’s Executive Director:

The Oregon most know is a fabulous one of moss-dripped forests, jagged coast and piercing blue lakes. Yet apart from these places lies an area just as unique and beautiful — Oregon’s high desert. Lesser known even to some Oregonians, this area actually makes up nearly half the state.

Here at the Oregon Natural Desert Association, we have worked to protect, defend and restore Oregon’s high desert for nearly 30 years. This takes form in our successful efforts to protect places like the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, in pressing to keep inappropriate development off places like Steens Mountain and in the thousands of hours our volunteers work every year to restore streams and wildlife habitat across Oregon’s high desert.

And with our supporters, we have permanently protected as wilderness some of Oregon’s most magnificent places. A century from now, people will be grateful they can experience eastern Oregon wilderness areas like Steens Mountain, the Oregon Badlands outside of Bend and Spring Basin along the John Day River.

Moving forward, the follow-up question continues to be: How much more needs to be protected? The answer is clearly different for each of us. Regardless of your answer, however, it is clear that Oregon has not protected enough wilderness yet, and particularly not enough desert wilderness.

Oregon lags far behind our neighbors in California, Washington, Nevada and Idaho in the amount of wilderness protected. This is largely due to the fact that Oregon has yet to permanently protect even a fraction of its desert lands. In Oregon, approximately 2.2 million acres — nearly 7 percent of our forests — have been designated as wilderness. By contrast, a meager 200,000 acres, or less than 1 percent of Oregon’s high desert, is currently protected. Yet there are amazing places there that merit protection. Nearly 3 million acres of public lands in the high desert known as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), areas already recognized to be worthy of permanent protection, have sat in limbo for more than three decadesawaiting congressional action.

I have heard some suggest that the remoteness of Oregon’s high desert will ensure that areas like the Owyhee Canyonlands will remain wild. This stunning area on Oregon’s eastern edge is larger than many eastern states; the Owyhee’s rolling hills, roaring rivers and red-rock canyons represent the largest stretch of wildlands in the lower 48 without permanent protection. It’s also a stronghold for the imperiled Greater sage-grouse and home to the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation. Yet remoteness will not keep it safe. It is obvious that there is no place on land, and perhaps now even in our oceans, where development cannot reach. Already in the Owyhee Canyonlands, threats like mining, unmanaged ATV use and the prospect of oil and gas development loom on the horizon.

I urge you to support protection of eastern Oregon’s wild desert. You can start today by adding your name to the petition to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands (WildOwyhee.org). We’re also working hard to protect areas like Sutton Mountain (ONDA.org/SuttonMountain), which neighbors the Painted Hills in the John Day River Basin, and the Whychus-Deschutes canyons (ONDA.org/CentralOregon) in central Oregon.

These places are emblematic of Oregon’s pristine beauty and essential to the survival of native wildlife. We invite you to experience them – visitors guides are on our website – and join us in urging for protection of Oregon’s spectacular dry side.

  Sutton Mountain in the John Day River Basin offers big vistas, canyons and marbled geologic formations. The area is proposed for wilderness. Photo: Tyler Roemer

Sutton Mountain in the John Day River Basin offers big vistas, canyons and marbled geologic formations. The area is proposed for wilderness. Photo: Tyler Roemer