New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced proposed changes to the implementing regulations for Real Property Tax Law Section 480a, also known as the Forest Tax Law. The comprehensive overhaul of these nearly 50-year-old regulations will lessen the administrative burden on participating forest landowners, help DEC promote compliance with requirements in place, and maintain and improve sustainable timber management on enrolled lands.
“The Forest Tax Law Program provides private forest landowners a significant real property tax reduction on enrolled forest lands in exchange for managing their timber resource for the long-term with the support of professional foresters,” said Commissioner Seggos. “Privately owned forests make up to 74 percent of the total forest land area in New York, and heathy, well-managed forests are essential for supporting our economy, protecting water and air quality, providing wildlife habitat, and improving forest carbon storage and sequestration, supporting the State’s climate efforts.”
To encourage the long-term management of woodlands to produce forest crops and encourage a more stable forest economy, the State of New York enacted the 480a forest tax law in 1974. Nearly 1.4 million acres owned by approximately 4,000 private forest land are currently enrolled in the Forest Tax Law program. While the program has benefited many forest landowners, DEC is improving this successful program to further ensure the sustainability of forest ownership over time.
Prior to developing these new regulatory proposals, DEC Lands and Forests staff held 10 meetings across the state with stakeholders to discuss proposed changes to 480a that would increase compliance, reduce administrative burdens to landowners and DEC, and improve forestry outcomes. The feedback resulted in proposed changes that benefit both participating landowners and assist DEC in the administration of the program by enhancing standardization and will help improve compliance. They would not alter the annual tax benefit, stumpage tax, commitment period, or penalties for non-compliance.
The proposed changes include:
- Extending the period an approved forest management plan would cover from 15 years to 20 years and requiring fewer plan updates;
- Providing more flexibility to enrolled landowners to complete forestry treatments by changing the work schedule from year-by-year deadlines to a 10-year work window;
- Strengthening forest sustainability requirements on enrolled lands, such as explicitly banning high grading and requiring efforts to establish adequate forest regeneration. High grading involves removing most of the commercially valuable trees at the expense of future growth and future financial return, often leaving a forest in poor condition; and
- Establishing a training requirement for consulting foresters working with Forest Tax Law clients to help set clear expectations and standardize Forest Tax Law administration across the state.
The proposed changes would go into effect on March 1, 2023.
DEC is holding two virtual public comment hearings on Sept. 13, and will be accepting public comments through Sept. 19. The public is encouraged to submit comments in writing to: NYSDEC Private Lands and Forest Utilization Section, Bureau of Forest Resource Management 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-7254 or by email to: [email protected]. The virtual public comment hearings will be held on Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. For more information about the new and revised regulations, as well as how to participate in the public comment hearings, visit DEC’s website.