Oregon’s wildfire risk map emerges as new climate flashpoint

A new map in Oregon that rated the wildfire risk of every tax lot in the state — labeling nearly 80,000 structures as high-risk — generated so much pushback from angry homeowners that officials abruptly retracted it, saying they had not done enough local outreach before publicizing the ambitious project.

The rapid reversal, announced late Thursday, capped weeks of mounting frustration in mostly rural areas as the map emerged as a new flashpoint for conservatives who call it government overreach and “climate change evangelism.”

Oregon State Forester Cal Mukumoto said in a statement his agency got specific feedback from 2,000 residents about problems with the risk designations that were assigned by the Oregon Explorer project and said climate scientists would refine the map and reissue a new version at a later date.

The map was part of a $220 million bill passed last year to prepare Oregon for worsening, climate change-fueled wildfires.

“While we met the bill’s initial deadline for delivering on the map, there wasn’t enough time to allow for the type of local outreach and engagement that people wanted, needed and deserved,” wrote Mukumoto, who reiterated that Oregon is at a critical juncture with wildfires and needs to take bold action. “We know how important it is to get this right.”

Fierce opposition bubbled up at community meetings prior to the state’s step back. Residents and some local officials worried it would lead to insurance rate increases or coverage loss, while others bridled at new mandates for defensible space and rules for future construction that flow from the map’s designations.

One information session in the conservative southwest corner of the state was canceled after someone threatened violence.

“I’m sitting in a place here right now where I’m overlooking several hundred acres that are irrigated, they’re green year-round and yet they’re in ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk category. They’re never going to burn,” said Brandon Larsen, who spoke during a session that was moved online in Medford.

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“This is more about climate change evangelism than it is about actually protecting people from the risks that are out there.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry, which created the risk map with experts from Oregon State University, said the fire policies triggered by the initial map are intended to prevent more catastrophic wildfires — not make life more difficult for homeowners.

“Many of the comments that we’ve received and much of the concern is around, ‘I’ve already done what I can around my home so I should be at a lower risk.’ This isn’t a risk assessment of that defensible space,” Derek Gasperini, agency spokesman, said before the map was retracted.

“The map is the risk of wildfire occurrence and there are certain things you just can’t impact. You can’t affect the weather, you can’t change the fact that you live in a hot and dry climate.”

With climate change, wildfire risk maps like Oregon’s are likely to become increasingly common for homeowners, and even those maps will need to be updated frequently to keep up with the changing dynamics of …read more

Source:: Headlines News4jax

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