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Plant list obscures goal

Proposed amendments to the city’s wildfire mitigation ordinance are generating more controversy than they should — not because wildfire isn’t a real risk, but because the amendments include a list of prohibited plants, including the conifers that give Ashland much of its character. The plant list is probably the least consequential change, so it would be unfortunate if it was the reason for not adopting the rest of the changes.

Central to the plan is expanding the wildfire hazard zone to encompass the entire city. The existing zone includes neighborhoods along the edge of the Ashland Watershed.

While those areas are most at risk if a fire moves out of the watershed, the entire town is vulnerable, given the right conditions. And, as Chris Chambers, the city’s director of forestry, explained, the city currently cannot even prohibit wood shake roofs outside the existing hazard zone.

The amendments would prohibit shake roofs on new construction, require the removal of dead or dying vegetation near new structures and require trimming and thinning of tree canopies and flammable vegetation.

Only 50 to 100 new structures are built each year, and the rules wouldn’t apply to additions unless they exceed 200 square feet. Chambers said the number of conifers in town would be unlikely to change much “in our lifetimes” as a result of the new rules.

So why adopt a list of banned plants that won’t affect most residences? Focus on the construction guidelines, and work to educate all residents about flammable vegetation and defensible space.

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