Ruling in Josephine County protects 90 acres of forestland from development

By Francesca Varela, Communications Associate

In a win for 1000 Friends of Oregon and Rogue Advocates, the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) ruled against Josephine County’s request to turn about 90 acres of forestland into a residential subdivision.

Under state and local law, a County can only redesignate a property from forest zoning to residential zoning if it falls below a certain level of productivity, and if the new zoning will not promote urban uses on rural lands. LUBA found that the County failed to show that the 90 acres of forest, meadow, and wetland was anything other than valuable and productive forest land. The County also failed to demonstrate how plans for the property would retain rural levels of development. 

If it wasn’t for watchdog groups like 1000 Friends and Rogue Advocates, these 90 acres of forestland could have been lost, with a subdivision taking their place. Upholding boundaries between urban areas and forestlands is important for many reasons: it helps to reduce sprawl, protect forest resources, and reduce wildfire hazard. 

Due to climate change, wildfires are growing more extreme, and Oregon’s wildfire seasons are only getting longer. More homes along the wildland-urban interface mean more lives, property and wildlands are unnecessarily and dangerously exposed to wildfires. 

The wildland-urban interface is the place where the built environment meets wild areas. In a recent article, Steve Rouse, vice president of Rogue Advocates, explained that the wildland-urban interface “surrounds every single city in Southern Oregon, and those are basically the highest danger zones for fires because as you expand growth out into the forest those forests become more vulnerable to wildfires.”

In the era of climate change and extreme wildfire, we need to be diligent. This case sets an important precedent: if Josephine County would have won, it would have made it easier for counties to convert forestland into subdivisions along the wildland-urban interface in the future, in direct contradiction of Oregon’s strong land use laws.