If anyone owns or plans to own a tract of forest someday, she should know about New York Real Property Law-480-a: Real Property Tax Exemption for Forest Land. This is a New York law that promotes the growth of ‘forest crop’ by giving land owners an 80% discount on property taxes. This law is perfect for landowners who want to keep large tracts of land undeveloped but might otherwise have difficulty paying property taxes.
The law allows landowners to enroll any amount of forest land over fifty acres in the program. The landowner works closely with a certified forester and the DEC to develop a management plan for a property. That plan cultivates a stand of trees to facilitate growth. This is not a tree farm. A stand of trees has to be naturally occurring. Sometimes the designed plan requires the land owner to let nature take its course or it may require the landowner to thin parts of the forest to foster growth. This depends largely on the make up of the forest and what stage of life it’s in. In old growth forests, the plan often requires the owner to selectively log mature trees to make room for new growth. The landowner can profit from the sale of the timber but must fork over 6% of the proceeds to the state.
The exemption only pays off in the long term. Every year a taxpayer files for the exemption it binds them to follow the DEC management plan for ten subsequent years. Failure to comply with the plan or early cancellation results in hefty penalties.
This program is an interesting mix of public and private action that attempts to conserve forests across the state. Its aim is not to conserve for any other purpose than to fully maximize timber production. Any other enjoyment or benefit is simply a by-product.
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