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It’s time to say no to more fire-prone rural sprawl

In case you haven’t noticed we are in an ever-worsening drought in the region. It’s clear to anyone who’s watching that the climate change chickens have come home to roost with a vengeance and the Rogue Valley is once again staring down the barrel of another fast approaching long, hot, high-risk fire season.

Given this frightening new normal, the last thing we need is more build-out-now, burn-down-later auto-dependent rural sprawl in the most fire-prone areas of the county. Yet more of this unsustainable growth is exactly what planners and commissioners are sanctioning for Josephine County. And to get there they are doing their very best to sidestep the land-use laws designed to protect us from this type of short-sighted development.

An example of this irresponsible decision-making is the Josephine County Board of Commissioners’ approval to rezone nearly 90 acres of viable forest land to be used as a rural residential subdivision in an area of extreme fire risk. The board approved this rezone with blatant disregard for state laws protecting urbanization of rural forest lands, and for the county’s own laws requiring consideration of impacts of a zoning change on the broader community and environment. Rogue Advocates, a land-use advocacy organization of which I serve as board president, along with 1000 Friends of Oregon is currently appealing this approval to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals to prevent this unsustainable and legally unsupportable decision.

Josephine County decision makers have already rezoned 15,500 acres in a similar fashion, repeatedly failing to consider the cumulative effects of converting large amounts of agricultural land, forest lands and open space for residential uses. When our elected decision makers willfully ignore state land-use laws and disregard warnings that the development is not only illegal but also environmentally destructive, this shows that our leaders are prioritizing development at any cost over the well-being of the community and the environment that we all depend on.

Approving land-use changes that encourage rural sprawl adds to the strain on our environment by siphoning more water resources, developing in high fire risk zones, and locking in dependence on fossil fuel-reliant transportation. This dangerous trend needs to be stopped, and our leaders need to be held morally and legally accountable to acknowledge this reality in considering land use changes that affect the entire community.

Southern Oregon needs leaders who acknowledge climate change is here and now and who make decisions reflecting that reality. We need leaders who understand there are limits to growth that this community cannot afford to ignore. With the well-being of the community at risk from the consequences of the pursuit of endless, sprawling growth, we as a community should challenge land-use decisions that do not reflect this reality and only vote for decision makers who acknowledge we are in a worsening climate crisis of our own making.

Until that time, Rogue Advocates will continue to keep close watch and work to protect the sustainability and livability of our communities from irresponsible land-use decisions.

Jimmy MacLeod is president of Rogue Advocates (www.rogueadvocates.org), a public-interest land use watchdog and affiliate of 1000 Friends of Oregon. Rogue Advocates believes that endless growth threatens the preservation of farmland, forestland, open space, wildlife habitat and the livability of the Rogue Valley.