PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After a spat of backlash, the Oregon Department of Forestry is working on revising its Wildfire Risk Map it was required to make by the Oregon State Legislature in an effort to identify at-risk areas and dedicate resource to increase resilience.

The map was a part of Senate Bill 672, passed and signed into law in 2021. The bill allocated $220 million for wildfire prevention and suppression efforts, and also required ODF to create a map by summer 2022 assessing the risk of wildfire to the state’s 1.8 million tax lots.

ODF took into account landscape, historic weather patterns, plant life and other environmental factors to create the risk areas on the map.

On June 30, one year to the day after the bill was signed, ODF released its map. After notices were sent to home and property owners who live in high or extreme risk areas, ODF was met with thousands of comments about what the map means for them, according to ODF communications manager Derek Gasperini and bill sponsor Rep. Pam Marsh, a Democrat from Ashland.

People complained the map didn’t take in irrigated land or properties that have already created defensible space and installed fire resistant materials. In retrospect, Marsh believes it would have been better to release a draft map.

“We didn’t explain well enough to people how a map like this would be used and then how their work would reflect in our data,” Marsh said. “Whether or not the deadline was too fast, we didn’t do the work in a way that made it effective when it got to people.”

Gasperini says the public comment process leading to the release of the map was more focused on rules around governing the map, and there was no map for people to comment on. The map that was put out in the summer of 2022 was withdrawn earlier in August after the rush of feedback.

“There was no map for people to see during the public comment periods and that made it a little difficult for people to understand the implications,” Gasperini said.

The letters sent to property owners in high and extreme risk areas laid out some of the implications, including creating defensible space and using “hardening” homes with fire resistant materials like roof tiles, siding and fire-rated vents.

Those implications were requirements, but SB 762 also created a grant program for home owners to take the steps to prepare their home in the case of a fire.

Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District Chief Roger Johnson says “the map will have to continue to have a classification system that will allow the other elements to flow.”

“It allows the state to allocate scarce resources based on risk. If you have a fixed sum of money to invest in wildfire resiliency, it would make sense to know where the areas of greatest risk are and then target those scarce resources,” Johnson said.

Johnson also serves on the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association, which supports the bill and a map to inform the risk of fire.

SB 762 passed with bipartisan support, though several Republicans jumped on the outcry of residents to pressure ODF to make changes to the map.

In a statement sent on August 9, Senate Republican Leader Tim Knapp of Bend says ODF will be “unable to handle” appeals based of the first map.

“Ultimately, we need better management of our public forests at the state and federal levels so that we can begin to reduce the dangers of wildfire for rural and urban Oregonians alike,” Knapp said.

Other Republicans point to state and federal owned forests as the problem, not private property. State forests are subject to millions of dollars in grants to help mitigate those areas as part of the bill.

“It’s to acknowledge risk and then, as the next step, to do community prevention measures that can basically increase survivability,” Marsh said.

Property owners also voiced concern about home values and insurance rates. The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation has said insurers do not plan to use the map in rate setting, and the State of Oregon will consider civil penalties if they do.

Regardless, Marsh says, the ODF map portrays a reality in the Oregon Forests that insurers are likely aware of.

“They have their proprietary maps that we can’t see, but we know are there,” she said.

ODF doesn’t have a timeline at the moment to release a revised map, but Gasperini says, there will likely be a draft map and a public comment period before risk advisories are sent out to home owners. While there may be revisions to some properties, he doesn’t expect wide-scale changes to the map.

“We don’t want to undermine the purpose of the map, which is helping folks understand what type of hazards may be in their community and understanding how they can best plan to prepare and mitigate,” Gasperini said.