Prescribed burns, pre-planned power outages and other possible measures to reduce wildfire risk are widely accepted by the majority of Oregonians, according to a recent survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.
Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is a Portland-based nonpartisan group that releases periodic statewide surveys on issues ranging from the economy and the environment to politics and health care.
Wildfires have consumed large swaths of Oregon forestland in recent years, threatening communities and lives. Even when wildfires do not damage structures, they can leave towns and cities blanketed by smoke and high levels of air pollution. How to mitigate the threat of wildfire has been a popular talking point, especially since the devastating fires that ripped across the state on Labor Day two years ago.
When asked if they support intentionally planned power outages during a wind event, 56% of respondents agreed while 31% opposed such outages. In response to a similar question, 80% of respondents said they support closing campgrounds and other areas to recreational activities during a wind event, and 14% opposed closing such areas.
Most respondents — 68% — also supported closing highways during a strong wind event to prevent vehicles and trailers from becoming a source of ignition, while 22% were opposed to it.
Respondents were also asked about the most effective ways to protect homes located near forest areas. Most favored landscape work, such as removing brush from near the home. After that, they favored the use of non-burnable siding and roofing, thinning the adjacent forest, and prescribed burning in the adjacent forest.
The survey was conducted between Nov. 10-19 and involved 1,554 Oregon residents aged 18 and up. The margin of error is 2.3%.
Forty percent of respondents were Democrats, 25% were Republicans and 14% were nonaffiliated.
Nine percent of respondents were from Central Oregon.
One question asked whether or not Oregonians should be allowed to build homes in areas of high wildfire risk, a situation that has resulted in large numbers of houses going up in flames in western states in recent years, particularly in California. Just 34% of respondents said this should be allowed while 55% said it should not.
Some respondents said Oregonians need to accept responsibility for protecting their own homes if they reside in the wildland-urban interface.
“If people choose to build in a forest, they choose to suffer the consequences of fire, mudslides, snowstorms, etc. I don’t believe tax dollars should be used to assist with rebuilding,” said Jim McAllister, a Deschutes County resident.
Among respondents, 80% said that people living in high and extreme wildfire risk should be required to build homes from fire-resistant materials while just 13% said no such requirement should exist.
Conducting prescribed burns as a way to reduce fuels and mitigate wildfire risk received 72% support from survey respondents, even though it can create smoke that can be bothersome and sometimes unhealthy for communities. Just 14% said they are opposed to prescribed burns. The amount of opposition was higher among women (17%) compared to men (12%).
Survey respondents were also asked about the best way to use wood slash left on the forest floor after a thinning operation. Almost two-thirds (61%) said they support turning logging debris from timber harvests into biofuels, including biodiesel, while 10% opposed using slash for biofuels.
The survey also polled people on their perception of the amount of logging going on in the state. Around one-fifth of respondents (22%) said forests are not being logged enough, while one-third (35%) said the amount of logging is about the right amount and 43% said forests are being over logged.
This question resulted in a large generational gap. Just 11% of respondents aged 18 to 29 said forests are not logged enough while 61% of respondents aged over 65 said the forests are not logged often enough.
Survey respondents were also asked to name the biggest benefits that forests offer. “Habitat for wildlife” topped the list with an average rating of 4.7 out of five possible points. This was followed by clean and cool water for fish (4.6), drinking water for nearby communities (4.6), opportunities for recreation (4.3), beauty (4.2), carbon storage (4.1), and jobs in rural communities (4.1).
The two lowest-ranking reasons were related to the timber industry, including economic support for rural communities for timber harvest (4.0), and lumber for construction (3.8).
When respondents were asked if they would like to see more forest land managed by Tribes, 62% said yes and 17% said no.
Respondents were also asked to rank priorities when managing state forest land. Most said water quality, followed by habitat to conserve biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, economics, and recreation.
Climate change was also on the survey. Most respondents (70%) said climate change affects Oregon forests while 15% said it does not.
Respondents were asked if they would support using public dollars to help small private landowners log less of their trees in order to store more carbon in their forests. This idea received 53% support and 28% opposition.