Tax Advantages of Timber-Land Status

State and federal policies may help the landowner who manages his woods for timber. April 18, 2009

I have a forester that will be on my property soon and I am wondering if anyone can guide me on some additional questions I might ask. I have two points to make initially, and they are: with my 45 to 50 acres of wood lot am I in a size range that will gain me some relief from my New York taxes, or at least offset the tax burden if the feds will help with some sort of subsidy? I do have additional adjoining acreage if additional planting is needed, and if it is cost effective to do so.

It was harvested six years ago in a very reasonable manner, and overall 136 trees were harvested from the hardwood section. Of that 45-50 acres just less than 1/2 is a 40 year old planting of spruce (old tree farm, very crowded). I currently thin the younger spruce and manufacture Adirondack and log style furniture, hardly making a dent in the 14,000 softwoods that are there. Is there a benefit in joining a tree farm association? Like everyone else, I am motivated by finances, not greed. But at some point, if I donít get some tax relief in this very economically challenged region, that boasts the second highest property and school tax rate (combined) in the nation, I'll be forced to sell to some developer that sees tract housing within an easy commute to Buffalo and Rochester both!

I've wiped the sweat off my brow, and stepped off my soap box. But seriously, is the state forester likely to be friend or foe; ally or adversary when I hit him with my concerns for making the land work for me and my family? Thanks, to all you knowledgeable lot-owners for any info you may pass my way.

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From contributor W:
I can't speak for directives of all state forestry departments, but as a former state field forester I'll say that you will likely find the forester to be a friend in helping you to better manage your forestland. He or she will give you all the information you need to assist in making good decisions about the trees on your land while taking into account your objectives. The only limitations they may have pertain to performing timber appraisals and/or timber marketing services. In this arena, private consulting foresters may better suit your needs.

Forest landowner associations are a good way to meet others and learn what works and what doesnít. They generally have newsletters that keep you up-to-date and meetings once or twice a year. You may also gain some contacts for marketing your forest products.

From the original questioner:
I did expect the forester to be friend, not foe. I guess I sound a bit suspicious and paranoid lately when it comes to land laws. The town jurisdiction I live in actually told me recently that the woodlot did not contain any renewable resources and that one beef cow in a grazing pen with barn access is a pet! That was when I decided it was no longer worth talking to them. I just want to be invisible any more, they're scary.

Thanks again. The info he gives me on the tree farm groups and the local certified foresters and lot owners is likely to be a great source for local laws and proper uses etc.

From contributor H:
The NY DEC foresters are there to provide advice to private landowners like you and to start you on a path for getting your forest into a healthy and sustainable stage if that is your objective. The state forester can do a walk through with you and point out some things that are going on in your forest and what you can do to maintain or improve the health of your forest. The forester can't (or shouldn't) be doing any tree marking or setting up a timber sale or PC thinning. What you should ask about is what consultant foresters there are in your area and which ones he would do business with. He may not be able to get too specific but you should be able to get some leads anyway.

As for tax relief I'd suggest that you get a proper management plan done and then apply for inclusion in the Tree Farm program. We did this several years ago on some property that we own in the southern tier down in Steuben county. By getting the Tree Farm designation we then went to the town council that we're in and showed them that the property was being managed as timberland and that we had the certification to prove it.

Generally in the townships that we own NY property in they'll classify you as timberland, which is one of the lowest assessed categories, if you can prove that you are actively managing your property as timberland. NY also has a method for enrolling in a timberland designation that allows you to get some tax relief called the 480 plan. This is pretty involved and as a landowner in NY I've stayed away from it since the time and effort involved isn't worth the savings plus the degree of control that you lose in managing your timber under this plan. The state forester can help you begin to get lined out and that's their job. You can also tap into the Master Forester program and get a visit from one of them.

Also look into joining the NY Forest Owners Association, which probably has a chapter in your area. There are a lot of folks there that can pass on forest management advice and possibly give you tips on how to persuade the local town council that your land is being managed as timberland and so should be assessed accordingly