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Update: A second accuser emerges with misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: We take you to a state where more than 60,000 kids are chronically absent from school; and we'll let you know why the rural digital divide can be a twofold problem.

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Volunteers Keep Ore. High Desert Thriving

Restoration projects in Oregon's high desert include tree plantings along John Day River tributaries. (Jim Davis/Oregon Natural Desert Association)
Restoration projects in Oregon's high desert include tree plantings along John Day River tributaries. (Jim Davis/Oregon Natural Desert Association)
June 20, 2018

BEND, Ore. - Often neglected in the national imagination of Oregon is the fact that there are 28 million acres of high desert in the state. To help Oregon's deserts stay healthy and resilient, an organization is leading volunteer groups in restoration trips throughout the summer.

Some of the Oregon Natural Desert Association stewardship projects include restoring water sources such as rivers and streams, providing plantings for native species, and removing barbed-wire fences for the safety of wildlife. Ben Gordon, stewardship program director for ONDA, said first-time volunteers may not think there is much life in the desert, but they'll wake up on their first morning to plenty of wildlife sounds, such as birds and deer.

"It's just sort of this like cacophony of sounds and a reminder that the desert is very much alive and vibrant, that volunteers are often struck by the first time they get out into the field," he said, "which is one of the things that keeps people coming back."

With ONDA to guide them, Gordon said weekend trips to the desert help Oregonians get closer to desert landscapes - literally and figuratively. Volunteer opportunities are planned throughout the summer in the Central Oregon backcountry, John Day River Basin and Steens Mountain region. Gordon said these trips also offer an opportunity to fight back against climate change's effects on the desert.

Terry Butler has been named ONDA's 2018 volunteer of the year. He's been coming to Oregon's high desert for more than 30 years and said these trips have been learning opportunities that give him a greater connection to the landscape.

"What working with ONDA has really done is deepen that appreciation by having an opportunity to do these restoration trips, for example, or some of the other volunteer opportunities," he said.

Butler said the desert is facing some issues. Invasive grass species are increasing the threat from wildfires and overgrazing is degrading streams, for example. But Butler said he also has hope because organizations such as ONDA are dedicating to conserving it.

Details of ONDA restoration trips are online at onda.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR