From left: Cathy Yasuda, Tim Davis, Katalin Plummer, Kelly Richmond, Becky Reed, MJ Winter, Sammy Castonguay and John Breidenbach. (Courtesy of Friends of the Owyhee)

ONTARIO – Employees at Friends of the Owyhee might prefer to have their work station somewhere out in the great expanse of the 9 million-acre Owyhee region, but that would mean forgoing internet and cell phone service.

Six years after its creation, Friends of the Owyhee will have its first office, located within the Ontario Aquatic Center in a new partnership with the Ontario Recreation District. The office is located on the west side of the building in the old weight room.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony christened the new office last week.

With a permanent office, three full-time employees and a six-person board of directors, Friends of the Owyhee has come a long way since its inception in the basement of founder Tim Davis’ home.  

Davis, raised in Adrian, grew up with the Owyhee on his doorstep and said the future of the unprotected land was often discussed. Growing up politically conservative, Davis said he was often skeptical of protection efforts.

“I knew it was one of the last large remote areas and as I grew older, I wanted my grandchildren and future generations to be able to enjoy it,” Davis said. “I knew protection had to be a balance between ranchers and conservationists.”

Davis was working as a correctional officer in 2015 when he began leading trips to the Owyhee. The goal was to educate locals and visitors about a region that many people don’t know exists.

“We wanted to show that the Owyhee was more than just a lake and what you see going down highway 95,” said Davis. 

Many locals who participated in Davis’ weekend trips grew interested in becoming more involved in what was just an informal group at the time. Friends of the Owyhee became an official nonprofit in 2019, with Davis quitting his prison job the same year to work full-time as the director. 

Davis said Friends of the Owyhee is the only nonprofit conservation group based in Malheur County. 

Sammy Castonguay moved from the board in 2020 to work full-time as program director and earlier this year Katalin Plummer was hired as communications coordinator. Plummer, born in Ontario, moved back home during the pandemic and decided to apply for the job not knowing much.

“After learning more about the group and their mission, I offered to begin working as soon as the interview finished,” Plummer said. 

The nonprofit’s goal, according to Davis, is to promote conservation advocacy, stewardship, and recreation in the Owyhee region.

The group sees the threats to the area that is mostly in the hands of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as extractive mining, inadequate management, destructive recreation such as off-roading, and metropolitan areas that continue to grow around the Owyhee’s borders.

Davis said the group doesn’t want to push an agenda on anyone but rather show the area, present the information and allow people to form their own opinions. 

Friends of the Owyhee posts all upcoming events on social media and on its website, in addition to publishing a monthly newsletter. Davis also invited interested residents to come to their new office at 790 SW 3rd Ave in Ontario to learn more.

“We plan on being open 9 to 4 p.m. most days but if you come and we aren’t here, well, come back another day,” said Davis, chuckling. “If we aren’t here, we are most likely in the Owyhee.”

News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.

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