Wildfire and Forest Management

Wildfire, Oregon’s forests, and forest management to prevent wildfire: An especially hot topic for Oregonians.

From November 10–19, 2022, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs about Oregon’s forests, including wildfire and forest management. A description of the methodology used for the research is provided below.

The question numbers in this document correspond with the accompanying documents (Q1-62A). Due to rounding, the percentages reported below may not add to 100% or compare exactly to the percentages for the same question in the annotated questionnaire or tabs.

Included below for selected questions are noteworthy subgroup variations for BIPOC/white, age, urban/rural, education, gender, and households with and without children.

OVBC surveys currently use aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability.

For survey full question wording, all statistically significant subgroup findings, and respondent quotes, readers are encouraged to refer to the accompanying three documents: (1) annotated questionnaire, (2) cross tabulations document, and (3) verbatim written responses spreadsheet.

Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC): This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. OVBC is an independent and non-partisan organization and an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation. Representative OVBC projects include opinion research about race-based crimes for the Asian Health and Service Center, as well as research about early childhood education and the cost of childcare for the Children’s Institute.

Key Takeaways

  • Most residents are happy to play their part in reducing wildfire risk by supporting regulations on their own activity. At least half of residents support pre-planned power outages, and eight in ten support closing campgrounds and highways.
  • A large majority of Oregonians support prescribed burns to help mitigate wildfires and their impacts. However, support for this practice is tepid in intensity.
  • Oregonians believe a variety of tactics used to prevent wildfires from burning down homes are effective, and that home hardening and making smart landscaping choices are the most effective. 
  • There is nearly a consensus that fire-resistant materials should be required to build homes in high-risk areas, and half of Oregonians feel strongly about that. Oregonians lean in favor of prohibiting builds in high-risk areas, but there is minority disagreement from some groups, including rural residents.

Awareness and Knowledge

One in three Oregonians aren’t sure if forest fires tend to start on private or public land. Half of those who know or who hazard a guess say the fires tend to start on public land (Q12).

  • A plurality of all groups think most wildfires start on public land, but one out of every five BIPOC residents and people under 30 think most fires start on private land.
  • Women, suburban residents, and those without school-aged children at home are the most likely groups to say they don’t know enough about this to say (about four in ten for each group).

Just over half of Oregonians say it is likely true that the total economic cost of wildfire (things like damage to tourism, cost of re-seeding, loss of trees, health problems, etc.) runs about 10 times the cost of the firefighting alone.  (Q9).

  • One in ten residents say this notion is probably false. The rest didn’t venture a guess (nearly four in ten).
  • College graduates and men are the most likely of any demographic group to say this data point sounds believable.

Prescribed Burns

Most Oregonians—nearly three-quarters—support prescribed burns to help manage wildfires, but support is soft (Q11).

  • Residents are a bit more likely to say they somewhat support prescribed burns, rather than strongly supporting them.
  • Throughout the survey, between 20% and 30% of residents commonly say they needed more information to answer questions about forest management, but fewer (11%) say they need more information about prescribed burns—an issue that is frequently covered in the media and can be somewhat charged.
  • Support for prescribed burns increases as age groups rise—in part because younger residents are more likely to need additional information.
  • Men are more supportive of prescribed burns than women overall, and they are nearly twice as likely as women to strongly support the practice.
  • Support increases with more formal education. Eight in ten college grads support prescribed burns, 20 percentage points higher than support among those with a high school diploma or less education.
  • Rural and rural-changing-to-suburban communities are especially supportive, more so than urban residents. One in five urban residents oppose the practice.

Fire Risk Management

Oregonians support a multi-pronged approach when it comes to preventing or reducing the impacts of wildfires, including restricting recreation and travel and planned power outages (Q56–58A).

“The effects are so devastating and over such a long period, that extreme prevention measures are warranted. I was part of an area that was set to be subject to a planned power outage. I was not happy about it, but I understood the necessity of it.”

Woman, age 30-44, Washington County, Black or African American

“To the extent practicable, consider moving electric lines underground, and install backup solar panels and batteries to support rural communities in case of public safety power shutoffs.”

Nonbinary or gender nonconforming person, age 45-54, Columbia County, Prefers not to disclose race or ethnicity

“How about electric companies take care of trees that are close to their lines.”

Woman, age 65-74, Multnomah County, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native

“It is hard to control ‘stupid’ however, more education across the board would probably help. As most fires are human caused (the statistics prove this out), our focus should be to reduce the human factor as much as possible along with other measures listed above.”

Man, age 65-74, Crook County, White

Oregonians believe a variety of tactics used to prevent wildfires from burning down homes are effective, and they are most convinced of the tactics “closest to home” (Q59–62A).

“I believe we should respect the right of private property owners to build on their land. However, Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon is an excellent example of a property that never should’ve been built because taxpayers spend enormous sums of money protecting that resort from fire. That is not right.”

Man, age 18-29, Clackamas County, White

“As long as it won’t burden landowners, don’t make it mandatory, just education so cooperation can be reached.”

Man, age 55-64, Clackamas County, White

Oregonians lean toward believing residents shouldn’t be able to build homes in areas of high or extreme fire risk, although there is a significant difference in opinion between urban and rural residents (Q6).

  • Just over half of Oregonians lean toward saying that building homes on wildfire-prone land should simply not be allowed, but the sentiment is not a deeply held belief.
  • Nearly two-thirds of urban residents think home building should be restricted, compared to just less than half of rural residents.
  • Women, college grads, and seniors 75 and older are also more risk averse.

“Don’t let people build homes in fire-prone areas. Private insurance will probably take care of this problem eventually, however; they simply will not insure homes in such area. Good for them.”

Woman, age 75+, Multnomah County, White

“Homeowners pay for their insurance. It should be left to them and their insurance company how best to mitigate their concerns. Many of us purchase our homes in rural forested areas to be amongst the trees and wildlife, then bureaucrats stick their noses in … making us remove most of our trees and plants, then complain that there aren’t enough trees or other habitat.”

Man, age 55-64, Deschutes County, White

A more popular approach to mitigating fire risk for homes is to require fire-resistant building materials in areas with high or extreme wildfire risk. Eight in ten Oregonians say this is a good approach, and nearly half feel strongly about it (Q7).

  • At least seven in ten residents in every demographic group favor or at least lean in favor of such a policy.

Past Research

In 2019, research showed that the vast majority of Oregonians preferred managing state forests in a way that prioritizes both environmental protections and economic considerations[1]. Those sentiments are still true today.

In the intervening years, devastating wildfires across the state may be responsible for a marked shift in resident opinions about forest management. Three years ago, more than half of residents rated the management of federal, state, and private forests as good/very good.  Today, about four in ten residents agree that forests are managed well.  Political debates about forest management, including media coverage and social media influence, may also have played a role in the declining figures.

Although forestry has historically played a significant role in Oregon’s economy, residents continue to find themselves in need of additional information about the industry to form full opinions about forest management. In 2019, about one-quarter of Oregonians described themselves as not very or not at all familiar with the forestry industry. Today, roughly the same proportion of residents need more information to know if forests are managed right.

Opinions about wood products have shifted over the past three years, and Oregonians are now 10 percentage points more likely to prefer wood products as a building material to other products like steel and concrete (61%, up from 50%). This may reflect a growing awareness of carbon-intensive materials as well as growing acceptance of products like cross-laminated timber.

Perceptions of the benefits of forest thinning may have declined somewhat over the same stretch of time, or else people today may simply have less awareness of the practice. In 2019, three-quarters of residents said that forest thinning would reduce the risk of wildfire in forests in eastern and southwest Oregon. Today, just 62% say it is acceptable to thin trees (but not the oldest ones) to reduce wildfire fuels. However, an additional 18% say it is neither acceptable nor unacceptable and 12% say they don’t have an opinion. In this data set, an area of the state was not defined.

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 1,554 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education.

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error for the full sample ±2.48%. Due to rounding or multiple answer questions, response percentages may not add up to 100%.

For More Information:

[1] Oregon Forests Values and Beliefs Survey, January 14–25, 2019; DHM Research; N=800 Oregon residents. (https://www.oregon.gov/odf/board/bofarchives/20190424/2.1_BOFMIN_20190424_02_OFRI%20Values%20and%20Beliefs%20Survey.pdf)