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County limited in ability to enforce cutting of grass, weeds

In light of the current fires, I am reminded again that property owners outside of city limits in Jackson County are not subject to any mandatory fire safety practices on their property. I fail to see an acceptable rationale for that, especially as I can’t help but notice how many rural properties are covered in tall, dry grass, desiccated shrubbery and dead trees. Why is there no county ordinance with some teeth in it?

— Carolyn, Central Point

Jackson County has much less ability to control land out in the county compared to what cities can regulate inside their borders, said Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton.

The county doesn’t have an ordinance requiring property owners to keep grass and weeds trimmed as most cities do.

In the past when the county has looked into a weed ordinance, one of the issues that came up was the difficulty in applying and enforcing such an ordinance in the county, Benton said.

For example, on land zoned for farm and forest use, state law severely restricts the county’s ability to regulate use or adopt nuisance ordinances, including nuisance weed ordinances, he said.

State law is geared toward protecting the right to farm and grow trees.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts noted 50% of the land in the county is managed by federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Commissioners continually push for more fuel-reduction efforts, including timber harvests, but they don’t manage those lands.

“Our board has been very active regarding wildfire and smoke prevention,” she said.

Working with Oregon Department of Forestry partners, commissioners have considered more deliberate discussions about the importance of creating and maintaining defensible space on private lands, especially in light of the current fire devastation, Roberts said.

It hasn’t been determined whether that will take the form of a county ordinance, she said.

“We will continue working on this very important issue,” she said.

Roberts said land ownership comes with responsibilities, whether the land is privately owned or under the jurisdiction of federal agencies.

She said commissioners support a variety of land management programs in the county, including Firewise programs that promote greater fire resiliency.

Firewise is a voluntary program that helps neighbors organize to reduce fuels and other fire hazards.

Roberts said the Southern Oregon Extension Service and Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District also have a variety of land stewardship programs.

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