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Oregon Needs To Regulate Development For Wildfire, Report Concludes

USFS/Darren Stebbins

A land-use group says Oregon policymakers are dawdling on creating policies that better plan for wildfires. 1000 Friends of Oregon outlined suggested policy changes in a report released Monday.

The group has long defended forests and farmlands from urban sprawl. In its report about wildfire planning, it says stricter development regulations can save homes, and even lives.

But instead of making policies for better wildfire planning, staff attorney Meriel Darzen says policymakers are waiting for the perfect data set.

“Sometimes there’s a logjam around trying to find exactly what the perfect solution is to everything,” Darzen said. “We think we need to get moving on this now rather than searching for the exact right answers.”

The 70-page report details the history of land-use planning in Oregon and how wildfire has played a role. The report outlines a handful of suggested policy changes, including avoiding development in areas prone to wildfire. These tend to be thickly forested regions with a lot of dry vegetation.

The report says state lawmakers, as well as cities and governments, need to adopt policies connected to an official wildfire risk map. Oregon state agencies have already mapped out high wildfire risk zones, but they haven’t tied regulations to those maps.

Meanwhile, Oregon counties and cities rarely include wildfire maps in their development plans.

“When the local governments go through planning, they should be required to consider this data when they’re thinking about both short-term and long-term planning,” Darzen said.

Reeds College undergraduate Ashlee Fox researched and wrote the report as an intern with 1000 Friends of Oregon. Darzen said the nonprofit plans to send the report to the legislature, state agencies and nonprofits.

“We’re hoping we could get something [in the legislature], particularly with respect to the mapping issue,” Darzen said. “We just want to make sure this stars front and center as we move forward with the next couple of sessions.”


April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.