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Proposed wildfire ordinance overreacts

I have a big problem with Ashland’s impending Wildfire Landscape Restrictions Ordinance, but I’d first like to say nice things about everyone involved.

Ashland Wildfire Chief Chris Chambers is fantastic. I agree with his aggressive AFR thinning and burning in the watershed. He spearheaded the new Smokewise website and fully supports the Firewise program. He does a million other great things for Ashland.

Speaking of Firewise, Alison Lerch has helped my community for years with information, funding and advice about flammable plant reduction. I am my neighborhood Firewise captain and a former forester.

I am a big fan of Chris Chambers and Alison Lerch, but I am not a big fan of the ordinance they have proposed. In the name of safety it is a giant step towards making Ashland one big, uniform retirement community and will slowly remove a lot of trees, and character, from town.

As mentioned in Monday’s study session, this ordinance only affects new homes, additions and decks. That initially sounds measured and reasonable. They estimated 250 homes per year would be affected. Now some quick math — In four years, that’s 1.000 homes. Forty years — 10,000 homes. That’s all the homes! Ashland now has 10,000 homes. The stated goal is to noticeably change the landscaping of the entire city in 10 to 20 years.

This ordinance is sacrificing Ashland’s character to the gods of fear.

The noble long-term strategy to reduce flammable landscaping is stiflingly restrictive.

According to the “prohibited plants” list, the reduction is mostly native plants. Virtually all cedar, fir, pine, spruce, juniper, sequoia, manzanita and Oregon grape. Ashland — a proud Tree City, USA — is preparing to prohibit all conifers including the state tree, the Douglas fir. If implemented, the entire city will slowly begin to look like a giant version of its sterile, gray-pavered plaza.

My concern is that Ashland’s culture of fearfulness will prevail. 24-hour fire news and smoke news and another anecdote from a friend in Redding or Santa Rosa can easily stoke the fires of overreaction. I implore the Ashland City Council to take a deep, smoky breath, and put more effort into reassuring its residents.

I would also suggest an expansion of the Firewise program and/or the tenets and techniques of that program. It is proven, voluntary, and successful.

Also include wildfire plant removal suggestions in utility bills, and finally, give an Ashland “Flammable Plant!” list to all local nurseries so customers can make their own informed decisions about their planting. There are so many more options available to us than this massive ordinance. This is a perfect example of using a chainsaw where pruning shears would suffice.

Legislating what people cannot plant, or what they must remove from their yards is what a homeowners association does, not what a city council should do. Right now the smoke is keeping me from enjoying the amazing city of Ashland. When it clears, I’d like to know that Ashland’s unique character will still be visible.

Jim Falkenstein lives in Ashland.

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