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Next wildfire risk map to roll out in late 2023

State officials pledge outreach, education, appeals process for those in high-risk areas

A state wildfire risk map that was abruptly rescinded earlier this summer, following outcry from landowners, will be revised next year and released in December 2023, according to a newly updated timeline and action plan from Oregon Department of Forestry.

The new timeline allows for “robust community engagement, outreach and education” over the next year, according to an ODF news release issued Thursday.

The timeline calls for the next draft of the risk map to be made public March 1, and the final draft is expected to be shared with the public between October and December 2023, with ample notification for those in the highest-risk areas and a 60-day appeals process before the map is finalized and implemented.

The first phase, starting this fall, includes “risk and mitigation outreach and education, with focus on the most vulnerable areas,” ODF said.

According to an email from ODF spokesperson Derek Gasperini, details of those outreach efforts between October and February are still being fleshed out, but they “could include town halls, webinars, virtual meetings, field tours and other opportunities in communities of highest exposure to wildfire.”

Gasperini described the map’s purpose as providing “transparent and science-based information” about factors that drive wildfire risk — such as weather, topography and nearby vegetation — and educating people about ways to protect their homes.

Other ideas on the table include “small-group forums with various local government groups,” which according to Gasperini could include city and county planners or county commissioners.

“Once the map is released March 1, state agencies will continue outreach and engagement to solicit feedback from the public and state and local partners,” Gasperini stated.

ODF is working with fire scientists at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, the Oregon State Fire Marshal and Department of Consumer and Business Services on the statewide fire risk assessment map, which was ordered by the state Legislature last year as part of Senate Bill 762 in response to the Labor Day 2020 fires.

An earlier version of the map was unveiled in late June and rescinded Aug. 4 — one day after a heated online public hearing watched by 1,200 people on Zoom, and the same week that meetings in Medford and Grants Pass were canceled in response to a phone message in Grants Pass threatening violence.

Southern Oregonians at the Aug. 3 Zoom meeting raised concerns about inaccurate mapping and fears of increased property insurance rates, and they made arguments that private property owners were being asked to shoulder costs of fires started on federal land, sparked by utility companies or arsonists.

According to ODF, the state revised its timeline after “feedback and concerns,” and the state is revising its timeline for implementation “to allow for robust community engagement, outreach and education.

The Oregon Wildfire Programs Advisory Council is scheduled to conduct a “high level review” of the updated mapping timeline in a Zoom public meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 26.

After the draft map is made public, ODF will work with parties including local governments, planning departments, the state fire marshal and building codes division for review, outreach to the public and “making any necessary revisions” based on feedback.

After the final wildfire risk map is made public next year, a 60-day notification and appeals process will begin, with property owners in the highest-risk areas notified about steps they’ll be expected to take.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.