PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A remade version of an Oregon state map that shows each property’s risk of wildfire will not be released as early as expected, the Oregon Department of Forestry announced Wednesday.
The decision comes shortly after the start of Oregon’s 2023 legislative session. Lawmakers are expected to debate proposed bills that could alter Senate Bill 762, the wildfire funding bill that passed in 2021.
According to ODF, there are several bills proposing changes such as which areas are assigned a risk classification and potentially abolishing the map entirely.
“We want to avoid expending resources on work that may not align with new direction that may come from the legislature this session,” said Oregon State Forester Cal Mukumoto.
Without knowing what decisions lawmakers will make, ODF does not know how long it will take to make required changes. The agency had planned to release an updated version of the map in fall 2023.
The color-coordinated wildland-urban interface and statewide wildfire risk map intends to serve as a visual representation of what the wildfire risk is for all of Oregon’s 1.8 million tax lots.
Mukumoto said ODF has been working with Oregon State University on technical adjustments to the map and has been planning for more community outreach and engagement.
ODF released the original version of the map on June 30, 2022 and withdrew it just over a month later after thousands of Oregonians shared feedback. Many residents throughout the state challenged the map and the way it classified properties.
Some feared that living in a high- or extreme-risk area could drive up the cost of homeowners’ insurance. However, the state has reassured owners that insurance providers in the state have promised to not do so.
Insurance providers perform their own underwriting and create their own risk maps. They have been dropping Oregonians’ home coverage due to their wildfire risk, but state officials say it’s not a result of the wildfire risk map.
When ODF withdrew the original map on Aug. 4, 2022, the agency said it would conduct public and stakeholder engagement, outreach and education from October 2022 through February 2023.
“There were some great recommendations that came out of the Wildfire Programs Advisory Council’s first annual report and opportunities identified by Wildfire Programs Director Doug Grafe related to the map that I hope the Legislature gets the opportunity to explore during this session,” Mukumoto said.
Those recommendations are in addition to the bills lawmakers will consider this session.
ODF said members of both the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Wildfire Programs Advisory Council have expressed support for continued mapping of wildfire hazards. They support continued mapping of wildfire hazards to know where to make investments in wildfire mitigation activities, including fuels reduction and building defensible space.
“We have a lot of ideas about revisions to the wildfire program to make it more effective, include the public to a greater degree to move forward,” said Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources Sen. Jeff Golden at a committee meeting on Jan. 18. “The idea here is to give the legislature a chance to do what revisions it chooses to of this program before the publication of another map.”
Golden, who represents Oregonians in the southwest part of the state, pointed out that there were in-person public hearings to discuss the map scheduled in Grants Pass and Medford that had to be moved online because so many people were upset and sharing angry comments online.
At the online meeting, there were 1,200 participants, he said.
“Our goal this session is to get resources and expertise to Oregonians already doing good work on the ground to protect their properties and neighborhoods,” Golden said. “It’s important to get that done and to do all we can to ease the homeowner insurance challenges that the era of megafires has brought us before moving forward with any map.”
Mark Bennett, chair of the Wildfire Programs Advisory Council said there needs to be robust communications and outreach efforts across all Senate Bill 762 programs to help property owners understand what their classification means, how they can better protect their homes and what resources are available.
While the legislature is in session, ODF will continue to work with OSU to adjust the map based on feedback received about the first version of the map. This includes addressing concerns related to irrigated lands and classification differences on adjacent lots.
The agency will also follow the progress of bills related to the risk map and will adjust its work accordingly.
It will continue to work with the Wildfire Programs Advisory Council to identify community needs and opportunities for outreach, education and engagement.