News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Comment period extended for Oregon fire risk maps

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

State officials have extended the public comment period for a major effort on the wildland-urban interface and statewide wildfire risk maps.

The project is part of the requirements of Senate Bill 762, passed in the 2021 legislative session, and is facing a statutory deadline to adopt its rules by June 30.

However, at public hearings held April 19-21 to gather feedback on the plans, project officials heard several requests for more time to comment. The new deadline is noon on Monday, May 9, with those interested in participating encouraged to email comments to [email protected].

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed SB 762 on July 19, 2021. The bill was designed to serve as a comprehensive wildfire preparedness and resiliency bill amid the fires that have plagued the state in the past few years, including the Labor Day 2020 blazes that affected huge swathes of the Santiam Canyon.

In addition to the work on the wildland-urban interface and state mapping, the bill also authorized work on developing electric system plans, defensible space, land use, building codes, health systems for smoke, emergency response and disaster recovery and wildfire response capacity.

Separate state agencies are working on the other pieces of the bill, and they have their own deadlines, said Derek Gasperini, public affairs officer with the Oregon Department of forestry.

“Defensible space and building codes will apply to specific areas identified in the map: the two highest risk classes in the wildland-urban interface,” Gasperini said. “Deadlines are different for different efforts. The map comes first in relation to activities in the wildland-urban interface since the map will identify and assign risk classes.”

A key partner in the work is Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. Before SB 762 was passed, OSU was maintaining the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer under a contract with the state. 

“Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon State University are required to produce a map of the wildland-urban interface and five wildfire risk classes by June 30, 2022,” Gasperini said. “This rulemaking effort and public comment period are limited to the rules required to set (the) policy (that) OSU needs to create the map. Other agencies have subsequent requirements based on the completed map. However, this effort is focused on the map itself.”

SB 762 requires that the new map be used to augment the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer.

The work includes assigning one of five risk classes to individual properties. The rules will establish the notification process to property owners and how to appeal assignment of a risk classification.

The rulemaking work is led by a 26-person advisory committee that met four times, from July 27, 2021 to Aug. 17, 2021, to discuss definitions of the wildland-urban interface and nine times, from Sept. 30, 2021 through Feb. 10, 2022, on the rules. 

The committee consists of a wide range of interests. Included were timber industry officials, fire officials, environmental groups, agricultural officials, state officials and OSU faculty members.

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