State Programs Supporting Healthy Forests
Vermont’s forests face continuing pressure from a variety of sources, including an increase in property values, fragmentation from development, and an increase in pest population. Forests cover nearly 70% of Vermont’s landscape, yet approximately ninety percent of the forests are privately owned. A number of programs are in place at the state level to help conserve forestry resources, but require the landowner’s voluntary participation. Awareness of and participation in these programs is critical to ensuring our forests balance the needs of landowners and the needs of the forest ecosystem.
FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
The Forest Stewardship Program is a voluntary program for landowners interested in ensuring that the forests on their land remain healthy and available for future generations to enjoy. The landowner looses not property rights enrolling in the program. The landowner is required to write a Forest Stewardship Plan. Contact your county forester and they can help you get started and also may suggest hiring a private consulting forester to assist with the plan. A Stewardship Plan provides an evaluation of the forest resource assets and sets some clear goals for managing the land. The evaluation portion of the plan will identify and quantify the soils and their resource capability, wildlife and wildlife habitat, archeological, cultural and historic sites, wetlands, the forest cover and timber potential, and recreational opportunities. The plan will then set forth activities to meet the landowner’s objectives compatible with the specific qualities of the land. The costs may be shared by enrolling in the Forest Land Enhancement Program (see below). The Forest Stewardship Plan may also be used for enrollment in the Current Use Program (see below).
Please visit the Division of Forestry, Vermont Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation website on their Forest Stewardship Program for more information.
FOREST LAND ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM (FLEP)
In 2002, Congress created the Forest Land Enhancement Program (FLEP) as part of the Farm Bill. The program is designed to provide educational, technical, and financial assistance to landowners to assist them in managing their forests on a sustainable basis. In Vermont, the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation administers the program. These funds can assist a landowner in developing the Forest Stewardship Plan required as part of the Forest Stewardship Program (see above).
There are specific requirements the need to be met before a landowner can enroll their land into the program. For example, the landowner must own a minimum of 10 contiguous acres of non-industrial forestland and a maximum of 1,000 acres of forestland and they must promise to maintain the cost-shared practices 10 years after practice completion.
The program authorized cost sharing with a landowner for a number of activities, including:
- Reforestation and restoration of the property
- Forest stand improvement including activities that increase tree growth and quality and improve stand vigor and forest health;
- Water quality improvement and watershed protection activities including purchasing, site preparation, planting, and establishment of permanent vegetative cover (shrubs, grasses and/or legumes) on areas needing critical area treatment to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation including riparian areas and wetland buffer zones; permanent fencing needed to protect riparian areas or wetlands from grazing by livestock;
- Fish and wildlife habitat improvement practices, establishment and improvement of permanent wildlife openings, improvement of winter habitat for white-tailed deer
For more information, please visit the Division of Forestry, Vermont Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation website or review theVermont Forest Land Enhancement Program Handbook of Forest Land Enhancement Program Practices
USE VALUE APPRAISAL PROGRAM
In an effort to keep agricultural and farm land in production in Vermont, the Legislature passed the Use Value Appraisal law in 1978. The Use Value Appraisal – also called Current Use – Program taxes farm and forest land enrolled in the program based on its remaining in agricultural or forest use rather than its value in the market place. Benefits for land enrolled in the program were first distributed in tax year 1980.
The State of Vermont requires towns to tax land at its highest and best value, which is usually its development value. By doing this, productive forestland often cost more in taxes than the landowner receives in income from the forestry activities conducted on the land. The Use Value Appraisal Program allows landowners to have their enrolled land appraised based on its forestry value instead of its fair market value (developmental value). Productive forestland appraised under this program receives this assessment as long as it is actively managed.
When land is enrolled in this program, the State attaches a lien to the deed. This lien guarantees that Vermont can collect the Land Use Change Tax if all or any portion of the enrolled land is developed. If the landowner does not want to continue enrollment in the program, they may withdraw at any time. However, to remove the lien from the title of the property, the landowner must pay the Land Use Change Tax. Currently, this tax is 20% of the fair market value for lands enrolled 10 tax years or less and 10% for lands enrolled 11 or more tax years.
Participation in the program has grown as it has evolved. Currently there are over 15,000 properties enrolled totaling more than 2,000,000 acres. This represents approximately 1/3 of Vermont’s total land area.
An example of the savings a forest landowner can receive:
- Under a Fair Market Value appraisal method, 100 acres of productive forestland may be assessed at $800/acre = $80,000
- If the sum of all property tax rates is $2.50/per $100 of assessed value, the annual tax on this land would be $2,000
- If this parcel was in Current Use, it would be listed at $127/acre and the annual property tax on this 100 acres would be $317.50
- The difference in this case would be $1,682.50!
Information provided by the Division of Forestry website and Use Value Appraisal Program Revised Manual, March 31, 2006 compiled and edited by: Bill Guenther, Windham County Forester and Carol Morrison, UVM Extension.
For more information visit the website for the Vermont Tax Department’sDivision of Property Valuation and Review.