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

State pulls back fire risk maps

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Amid strenuous statewide criticism the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) has recalled its wildfire risk maps.

The maps, mandated by a new state law and developed by the ODF in conjunction with Oregon State University, have received a barrage of complaints from both residents and members of the Oregon Legislature.

The maps were released June 30 and were designed to establish a wildfire risk category for every state property. Mandated by Senate Bill 762, the maps also were supposed to identify which high-risk properties needed to fire-harden their homes and establish more defensible space around them.         

“We’ve been soliciting and collecting questions, concerns, and other input since the statewide wildfire risk map was released just over a month ago,” said Cal Mukumoto, director of the ODF in a statement released by his office. “We’ve received specific feedback from nearly 2,000 Oregonians that has helped us understand the key areas of concern related to risk classification. We have a window of opportunity before the new codes go into effect to take some immediate steps toward addressing those concerns, and we will be taking full advantage of the opportunity.

“In response to input received since posting, we have decided to remove the current iteration of the wildfire risk map from the (website) and withdraw the notices sent. We will immediately begin working with Oregon State University on some refinements to improve the accuracy of risk classification assignments based on what we’ve heard from property owners thus far.”

Key concerns raised by residents and property owners include fears their insurance rates would rise or possibly be canceled because their properties were tagged with a high or extreme risk label in the maps.

Two Republican Oregon legislators, Sen. Lynn Findley of Vale and Rep. Mark Owens of Crane, released a scathing statement on the maps Aug. 3 calling for ODF “to stop this process and recall the map.”

Findley and Owens claimed the department made “serious errors” and a “lack of transparency and abuse of process” marred the work.

“The map as it stands has no credibility and the Oregon Department of Forestry needs to take ownership and leadership and re-evaluate immediately,” Owens wrote. “This map serves as an ill-informed, unreviewed, and dangerous and divisive product pitting homeowners against the state of Oregon.”

The map project included an appeals process, but Mukumoto’s statement noted  “any appeals filed will become moot. For those who did submit an appeal, we will be reviewing the information submitted and using it to identify any additional areas where we may need to take a closer look at the data.

“While we met the bill’s initial deadline for delivering on the map, there wasn’t enough time to allow for the type of local outreach and engagement that people wanted, needed and deserved. Once this round of refinements is complete, we are planning to bring a draft of the updated map to communities for discussion and input. We are in the process of developing a plan and timeline to complete these activities, including public engagement and outreach opportunities. We will share that publicly as soon as it is complete. We know how important it is to get this right, and we’re fully committed to continuing to work … to do just that.”

The risk maps are designed to work with state code work on defensible space and fire-hardening. The code work will continue while the maps are rebooted. 

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