In light of last year’s smoky fire season, the city of Sisters was selected for a nationwide program that will help reduce wildfire risk through local land use planning.
The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program, or CPAW, identifies communities that could improve code regulations and planning to reduce wildfire risks. The assessments are made by a team of land use planners, foresters, researchers and policy analysts through a yearlong process and the suggestions are presented to the city stakeholders.
Last summer’s Milli Fire, which burned 24,000 acres about nine miles west of Sisters in August, was a blow to tourism in the area. Residents and businesses who experienced the economic strain of the wildfire felt the need to reassess wildfire risk, said Patrick Davenport, community development director.
“It certainly motivated us,” he said. “Concerns were felt personally but also the economic impact, because businesses felt it, too. We are victims to what happens outside our city, and we feel a bit helpless. We need to do what we can to protect our city and enhance how we mitigate fire risk. A lot more needs to happen.”
Suggestions for improvements in city code could include residential landscaping regulations that would require property owners to manage vegetation on their properties and fire resistant materials in construction of newly developed buildings, Davenport said.
“At some point there will be a wildfire; we can’t completely prevent it,” he said. “But we can certainly identify gaps in regulations and decrease our susceptibility. We are focusing on severe impacts of wildfire.”
City staff held a project kickoff meeting Tuesday, and the CPAW team will return throughout the year to assess the city conditions, draft recommendations and present a final report, in the fall.
CPAW was founded in 2015 by Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International and is funded by grants from the U.S. Forest Service and other private foundations. Sisters was selected by the grant-funded program as one of eight new communities in 2018 to help asses the wildfire risk.
“We are excited about working with Sisters,” said CPAW team lead Molly Mowery. “We really saw an opportunity with some of their plan updates coming up. In light of the recent Milli Fire, we knew the community was receptive and interested and willing to participate in this process. We are coming in to help facilitate the conversation.”
Bend was also selected for the program in 2016 after which CPAW made recommendations that included developing a citywide Community Wildfire Protection Plan and adopting future regulations for annexed land in the Urban Growth Boundary expansion plan.
The answer to wildfire prevention does not come in the form of clear-cutting trees, Mowery said.
“Clear-cutting trees is not a desired outcome from anyone,” she said. “We are interested in the science that drives wildfire and what we know that works from a regulatory and planning perspective. Our recommendations are based on science and what we know about how things burn and how to interrupt that process.”
The program will only affect residents who live within city limits, but future planning in the county would be the most beneficial, Davenport said.
“The grant only covers within city limits, and (residents outside city limits) would like their concerns addressed,” he said. “We hope this would be a learning opportunity to adopt some standard and hopefully the county picks up a similar process in the future.”
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