Wildfires have damaged thousands of acres of Oregon's High Desert land this summer, and restoring it will be a prime topic at this week's Desert Conference in Bend.

The Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) brings together conservation groups and volunteers, ranchers and educators, and representatives of state and federal agencies.

Julie Weikel, an ONDA board member, says this year's challenge is that three large fires have destroyed at least 15 percent of Oregon's habitat for sage grouse, and the land management agencies don't have the budgets to restore it without some help.

"There isn't enough manpower or seed to begin to think about active rehab of most of the lands that have gotten damaged," she said. "So all the more reason for all of us to come together and do the most cooperative kind of long-term planning that we can, to try to restore the health of the deserts."

They'll also discuss other challenges to the Oregon desert, including energy development and growing recreational use.

And it isn't all meetings and panel discussions. The Desert Conference kicks off Thursday night with a Wild and Scenic Film Festival. Several Northwest authors who use the desert as their inspiration will speak at conference events, including Ellen Waterston of Bend.

"The attention that the conference is paying underscores the beauty of the desert," Weikel said. "And then it's 'chop wood, carry water' time: let's look at what the real issues are that are challenging what so many of us treasure about that space."

The Desert Conference runs Thursday evening, Sept. 20, through Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Old Stone Church, 157 NW Franklin Ave., Bend. Registration and other information is online at www.onda.org.

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service prepared this story.