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Listen: Ryan Houston of the Oregon Natural Desert Association 🎧 

The federal government controls millions of acres of public lands in Oregon, but who benefits? The executive director of ONDA describes the work of keeping the Bureau of Land Management accountable and preserving high desert wilderness.

click to enlarge Ryan Houston, executive director of ONDA - COURTESY ONDA
  • Courtesy ONDA
  • Ryan Houston, executive director of ONDA

For this week’s episode of “Bend Don’t Break” we talk with Ryan Houston, who has been serving as executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association since 2018. Growing up in California, Houston developed an early interest the desert environment and eventually earned a master’s in ecology from the University of Arizona. He has a reputation in Central Oregon as a collaborator and coalition-builder and spearheaded dozens of efforts to conserve the Deschutes Basin during his work with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council where he was the executive director for two decades.

Houston framed the conversation by describing the work of the Bureau of Land Management, why it was founded and what it is empowered to do in its current form. One of ONDA’s primary goals is keeping this agency accountable, as the BLM oversees millions of acres in Oregon alone. Over the next few years, the BLM will be updating its management plans for some vital high desert regions in Eastern Oregon.


Houston expressed optimism about Joe Biden’s win for the presidency and he described some impending federal legislation that will directly affect Oregon’s wilderness areas: One is a plan to protect more than a million acres in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Another is federal funds to study the importance of salt water lakes such as Oregon’s Lake Abert.


Listen to more from Ryan Houston of the Oregon Natural Desert Association on this week's episode of “Bend Don't Break,” hosted by the Source Weekly’s publisher Aaron Switzer and co-hosted by Laurel Brauns. Every week, we feature a guest from the community with a new perspective on living through the COVID-19 pandemic including mental health professionals, economists, educators, artists, business people, local leaders and historians.

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