Important Farm, Forest Conservation Measure Becomes Law
Legislation to improve Vermont’s Current Use Program was enacted into law on June 10, 2008.
The bill makes several targeted improvements to the administration of the popular and broadly-supported 30-year-old program, also known as the Use Value Appraisal Program. Current use is widely credited with helping keep Vermont’s farms and forests viable, well-managed and intact by taxing land at its use value rather than its higher development value.
The legislation springs from the work of an independent study and a summer study committee — the Use Value Appraisal Task Force — which found that while the original goals of the program did not need to be changed, there were targeted improvements necessary to update and streamline the program. One of the original goals of the program that received attention by the Task Force is the protection of natural ecosystems. ”This legislation recognizes the goal of protecting natural ecosystems by greatly improving the enrollment of sensitive ecological areas while maintaining productive forests that benefit our rural economy and the rural character of our state,” said Jamey Fidel, forest and biodiversity program director of Vermont Natural Resources Council and a member of the Use Value Appraisal Task Force. Among other things, the law directs the Commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation to develop guidelines for the enrollment of important ecological areas. One of the findings in the bill suggests that the program should be amended “to allow for more flexibility in the enrollment of ecological areas, such as rare or exemplary natural communities, riparian buffers, wetlands, vernal pools, and significant wildlife habitat.” According to Fidel, many diverse interests came together and crafted a policy to help better protect sensitive ecological areas as part of good forest management and stewardship in Vermont. ”This law has broad support among foresters, farmers, landowners, conservation organizations, and many other interested parties,” Fidel said. In addition to the ecological measure, the law streamlines some of the duties of listers, and it improves the administrative burden of the program for county foresters, who will now need to visit parcels every ten years as opposed to every five years. The law also allows municipalities that own land in other municipalities, such as watershed protection areas, to enroll the land in the program.
About Current Use:
- Approximately 40 percent of eligible forestland is enrolled.
- Three quarters of Vermont’s dairy farms are enrolled in the program.
- Approximately 15,000 parcels total are enrolled in the program (two million acres) representing one-third of Vermont’s total land area.
- In 2007, total savings for property owners due to the program were $39.5 million.
For more information on the Use Value Advisory (UVA) Task Force Report and independent study of UVA Program visit www.leg.state.vt.us/WorkGroups/UseValue/