Revised Oregon wildfire risk map delayed while lawmakers debate changes

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio)
Jan. 24, 2023 11:38 p.m.

A revised wildfire risk map in Oregon could be delayed for at least six months.

The original map, championed by State Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, was recalled after intense public outcry last summer.

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State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Medford, listens to arguments on the floor of the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Medford, listens to arguments on the floor of the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

A draft map — which identifies communities most at risk from wildfires — was supposed to come out in March. But lawmakers will be considering a series of bills that could change or eliminate the map altogether.

“I will not support efforts to eliminate the maps altogether because we need those to focus our limited dollars and get them where they’re needed,” Golden said. “But the maps could play a very different role than the public thought they were playing last summer.”

One bill, sponsored by a group of Republican lawmakers, would remove the requirement that the state Department of Forestry oversee the development of the wildfire risk map.

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Golden expects a draft version of the new map to come out after the end of the legislative session in June.

He added officials with the Forestry Department plan to spend months gathering public input before finalizing anything.

“We’re also going to open the process up so that people understand the kind of criteria and assumptions that shape these maps,” Golden said.

During public testimony last year, many Oregon residents expressed concern that their insurance rates will rise dramatically or be canceled altogether because of wildfire risk.

Golden is also proposing legislation that would ban the use of the state wildfire risk maps by insurance companies.

He said insurance companies have already stated they don’t plan on using the state maps, saying they’ve already developed their own. But this bill would assure residents that any maps the state releases won’t be used for that purpose.

Golden said he wants to shift the focus from wildfire regulations passed in a package of 2021 legislation to incentive programs like establishing Firewise communities. Those incorporate strategies such as landscaping and home improvements to reduce vulnerability to wildfire.

“We want successful neighborhood projects to qualify their members for favorable treatment from the insurance industry, when it comes to premiums or availability of coverage,” he said. “Which is going to continue to be a huge challenge because of the era of wildfire that we’re in.”

Golden said the best way to ensure homeowners have access to affordable home insurance is to work with the insurers to prove a community has reduced their risk.

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