Our Legislative Wildfire Wrap-Up | SB 762

Mary Kyle McCurdy byline

On the final day of the 2021 session, the legislature passed Oregon’s first comprehensive wildfire preparedness and resiliency bill, Senate Bill 762. Passage of this bill was a key part of our legislative agenda, and we could not have done it without Oregonians like you from every corner of the state. Land use is a critical component of a comprehensive approach to living with wildfires and creating community resilience in the face of climate change.

Our efforts on this work date back to 2018, with the publication of our report, A New Vision for Wildfire Planning: A Report on Land Use and Wildfires. We laid out key recommendations in this report that are achieved by SB 762:

  1. Map wildfire risk across Oregon. SB 762 requires that the Oregon Dept of Forestry (ODF) develop a comprehensive statewide map of wildfire risk displaying five classifications of wildfire risk, from none to extreme. The map will be useable to the parcel level and include layers identifying vulnerable populations, locations of critical services such as hospitals, major infrastructure, and other important data layers. The map will be developed with input from Oregon State University, state agencies, the State Fire Marshal, federally recognized Indian tribes, local governments, and others. 
  2. Avoid development in high-risk areas and limit structures to those needed for farming and forestry.  SB 762 directs the Department of Land Conservation & Development (DLCD) to determine the updates needed to the statewide land use planning program and local comprehensive plans and zoning codes to incorporate the wildfire risk map so as to minimize risk — including through provisions on development considerations in high and extreme wildfire risk areas, defensible space, building codes, and safe evacuation routes.  DLCD will submit its assessment to the Oregon Legislature by the end of 2022, for possible future legislation.
  3. Mitigate risks to existing and future development. SB 762 requires the state to adopt wildfire hazard mitigation building code standards and apply them to new dwellings and accessory structures, as well as standards for additions to existing dwellings and accessory structures and for replacement of existing exterior elements.
  4. Don’t delay in search of perfect information. SB 762 includes short deadlines to complete the actions and rulemaking in the bill. Within 100 days, ODF must define the wildland urban interface, based on nationally-recognized best practices.  The wildfire risk map must be prepared by June 2022. DLCD’s report on incorporating the maps into land use planning is due by December 2022.The State Fire Marshal must develop the defensible space standards by December 2022. The wildfire hazard mitigation building code standards are to be applicable after April 2023.

SB 762 contains other provisions critical to a comprehensive wildfire program, based on best practices supported by those who are on the frontlines keeping our homes, communities, and lives safe when fires do occur, and on input from Oregonians across the state. Senate Bill 762 also: 

  • Creates a wildfire emergency shelter program, including clean air shelters and evacuation services. 
  • Funds a grant program for filtration systems to handle wildfire smoke.
  • Establishes policies for community-driven restoration of forests and rangelands.
  • Establishes electric utility planning requirements for wildfire events. 
  • Increases firefighter capacity, including air defense resources. 
  • Invests in youth and workforce training programs to help manage forest lands. 
  • Invests nearly $200 million to implement these policies.

It took legislative leadership to pass this bill, and 1000 Friends particularly thanks Sen. Jeff Golden and Rep. Pam Marsh for their tenacity and wisdom in getting SB 762 across the finish line.  And it also took a coalition of advocates that worked closely with one another, including The Nature Conservancy, Sustainable Northwest, the Oregon Conservation Network, and the League of Women Voters of Oregon.

In many ways, SB 762 is just the first step. Now 1000 Friends will dive into rulemaking to ensure the intent of the legislation gets implemented on the ground and makes a real difference for Oregonians.