This land is your land. And the more people who talk about it, the better.
That's the distinct message that Gena Goodman-Campbell, the public lands coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, works to share.
A native Portlander, Goodman-Campbell moved to Bend 11 years ago after earning a degree at Colorado College. She's been with ONDA—celebrating its 30th anniversary this year—for about 10 years. Before that, Goodman-Campbell worked with the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group as the campus organizer at Central Oregon Community College, where she says she got a lot of experience in grassroots organizing.
For ONDA, she worked as the Badlands Wilderness coordinator and the Central Oregon Wilderness coordinator before becoming the public lands coordinator early this year. Her past roles involved leading efforts to protect public lands in the John Day, Owyhee and Hart-Sheldon areas. Now, a large part of her job involves working on public lands policy.
"I feel like I've been paid to get a Ph.D. in public lands," she says.
Goodman-Campbell says the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation last year "gave us a preview of some of the threats to public lands, and everyone who enjoys public lands knows that they belong to them and has the responsibility to speak up for them.
"Our focus right now is really to grow the ranks of people who are speaking out for public lands, because public land is a place where we can find a lot of common ground." During—and since—the Malheur takeover, she says Harney County leaders were calling, saying, "This is how you can support us. We love public lands," she says.
"A major effort I'm working on now is a new idea for ONDA, but also goes back to our roots, a program called Public Land Leaders, to give people all over the state tools and resources to talk to others about public lands and why public lands matter to them and why they need to speak up for public lands." Goodman-Campbell says people can do this by contacting elected leaders and expressing their opinions.
The mission is to promote a more diverse group of people to talk about public lands, she adds. "It just can't be coming from ONDA."
Goodman-Campbell says one of her favorite things about her job is leading trips into wilderness areas each year—including one to the Owyhee Canyonlands, a major area of focus for ONDA. She reflects, "You go there and wonder, how is this not a national park?"
ONDA makes about 30 field restoration trips a year. "We take people out and put them to work," she says. One project had volunteers from ONDA and other groups pulling out obsolete barbed wire fences from the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, removing enough barbed wire to stretch across the state of Oregon.
Meanwhile, she says the current review of national monuments is one of the bigger threats facing public lands. "It's not just an attack on national monuments at the federal level but an attack on public lands in general."
In college, Goodman-Campbell studied political science and conflict resolution. "I still focus in my work on bridging divides. I grew up using and enjoying public lands and often took them for granted. I never thought they could go away or be destroyed."
One thing that's been apparent to her since then, she says, is the beauty to be found in eastern Oregon. "In just the past 10 years I've discovered these amazing places and landscapes. You could spend a lifetime exploring the high desert without even scratching the surface.
"The main thing that keeps me going is the people who I've met working for ONDA. There's a lot of integrity and passion. ONDA started as a real grassroots organization by volunteers who love our public lands and high desert. And the people I've met in the more rural parts of Oregon—that's been a real life-changing experience for me."
Goodman-Campbell says her long-term goal is to reach a wider variety of people and empower people in rural communities, including native peoples.
"Building trust and building relationships takes a lot of time and is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work," she says.
"Public lands are a big part of what makes life worth living and are what makes living in Bend and all of Oregon so great. Without public lands, Oregon just wouldn't be what it is and life wouldn't be nearly as rich."
ONDA will observe its 30th anniversary at Crow's Feet Commons this Friday.
The title of the iconic Woody Guthrie song, "This Land Is Your Land" is also the theme for a rally in support of public lands, from 4:30-6 p.m., July 27, location TBD.
"Stand for the Land: Bend"
ONDA's 30th anniversary celebration
Fri., June 30
Crow's Feet Commons
875 NW Brooks St., Bend