Lane County violated zoning protections for big game habitat for three decades

Lane County must implement protections for big game habitat by preventing sprawl and limiting the density of dwellings in the F-2 forest zone, according to the Land Use Board of Appeals ruling on January 21, 2021. The ruling requires the county to enact its 30-year-old promise to protect big habitat by implementing limits on the density of dwellings in regions designated as big game habitat.

“For over 30 years, Lane County ignored the habitat requirements for big game and instead allowed sprawling housing developments in the County’s F-2 forest zone, stated Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, Working Lands Engagement Coordinator at 1000 Friends of Oregon. “Rather than direct housing development inside urban growth boundaries, the sprawling development in the F-2 forest zone are built in areas at risk of wildfire and they degrade habitat for elk and other game species.” 

"For decades, Lane County has allowed parcels underlying tax lots to be used for homes in the forest zone in areas that were mapped as big game habitat without concern about over densification in the forest zone,” stated Lauri Segel-Vaccher, legal analyst at LandWatch Lane County. “Allowing these underlying small-sized parcels for homesites in the forest zone also requires allowing long easement roads across forest land and big game habitat, for access to multiple homesites.  LandWatch is hopeful that LUBA's decision will result in larger sized parcels in the forest zone and meaningful protections for big game habitat."

The challenge to Lane County’s failed implementation of density standards and big game habitat protections stems from a 2019 conditional use approval of a forest template dwelling outside of the Springfield urban growth boundary.  LandWatch Lane County appealed the county’s approval to LUBA. 1000 Friends intervened on the side of LandWatch Lane County. 

Unlike other counties, Lane County does not have explicit protections for big game habitat in its code or comprehensive plan. Instead, Lane County's comprehensive plan states that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) “recommendations on overall residential density for protection of big game shall be used to determine the allowable number of residential units within regions of the County.” However, the county never developed the regions, allowing the ODFW standards to be ignored at the expense of big game habitat protections.

Last week’s ruling effectively creates a minimum parcel size of 40 or 80 acres for dwellings within mapped big game habitat. Landowners seeking to avoid the minimum would need to conduct an economic, social, environmental, and energy (ESEE) analysis pursuant to Oregon’s land use planning Goal 5 – natural resources, scenic and historic areas, and open spaces. A minimum parcel size requirement or an ESEE analysis will provide big game habitat with the protection that Goal 5 requires, and it will curb the proliferation of sprawling residential development in the wildland urban interface on parcels ranging from 5 to 20 acres in the county’s F-2 zone.

Click here to read the full ruling.