Legislative Report - Week of 1/23 - Wildfire Report
Senate Committee on Natural Resources - 1/18/23
SB762 Wildfire Bill Update/Informational meeting
Senator Golden Presiding
by Carolyn Mayers
The League monitored the Senate Committee on Natural Resources January 18th meeting with an update on SB 762. Meeting materials, including detailed reports may be found here .
“We no longer have a fire season. We have a fire year.”
Mark Bennett, Chair, Wildfire Programs Advisory Council
The meeting began with Sen. Golden stating that at future meetings there will be discussions around the restructuring of SB 762.
An update on the progress of the Wildfire Programs Advisory Council was then presented by Chair Bennett. Highlights included a summary of work completed in 2022, and a statement that future work will include increased emphasis on Community Wildfire Risk Reduction. This point was reinforced a number of times. Also included were updates on progress in many areas including interagency cooperation, land use issues/tools, a review of DLCD’s October report, public health, the Oregon Conservation Corps and fuel reduction programs, and work with utilities to mitigate risk. Sen. Golden repeatedly mentioned his bill SB 509, which he stated would “fortify Neighborhood Protection Cooperatives”, building and expanding on the Firewise Program, already in place in 269 communities around Oregon, among other initiatives. This bill would give the State Fire Marshall’s office the authority to establish community risk reduction programs. Details on these and other projects may be found here - Community Risk Reduction Act of 2023 . Chair Bennet closed his remarks by saying, “There is a lot more going on than just the map.”, and acknowledged that Oregon Department of Forestry’s timeline to create the map was inadequate in terms of time and staff, expressing the desire for the timeline to be paused so it can be completed in a less pressure-filled manner.
Oregon State Forester Mukamoto and OSU Dean of the College of Forestry DeLuca discussed the process around creating the map, the “compressed” timeline and the errors made in rolling it out to the public. Since 11 bills (so far) relating to SB 762 have been introduced, and some of those are likely to affect the map, a timeline is difficult to establish at this time. Dean DeLuca stated Wildfire Exposure Map was a more accurate name than Wildfire Risk Map, and that it would likely be renamed. Finally, in response to a question from Sen. Golden about the previous lack of community involvement in the process, and how more needed to be done before the next map is released, there was general agreement there could/should be a webinar or other event(s) where the public could learn more in advance of the new map being released.
Chief Ruíz-Temple of the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s (OFSM) office reported that community based risk reduction was a main focus, and that they are building on tools and education that have been used in the past with a focus on seismic events and refocusing them for wildfire preparedness. Deputy State Fire Marshal McGrew reiterated Chief Ruíz’s points about education and outreach being a main focus, and they have established 7 regions around the State to break efforts down regionally, and have regional staff to “help build regional risk reduction efforts” through Homeowners’ Association’s, existing Firewise communities and other community organizations. One final point was that work has been completed on a Defensible Space Guideline document, and a $3 million public assistance program has been established to help property owners with defensible space work.
Finally, the Committee heard a presentation from Chris Chambers, Wildfire Division Chief from Ashland, who suggested that there is a sweet spot between Firewise, which he views as too “soft” on the one end, and imposing cumbersome regulations as too “tight” on the other end. His experience with a program offered by FEMA, for wildfire risk assessment, followed by mitigation on a case-by-case basis to meet a set standard, has been well-received by homeowners in Ashland, and could be used more widely across the State.