The WAC Forestry Program’s 2020 survey of New York City Watershed landowners showed that over two-thirds of study participants were unfamiliar with New York’s Forest Tax Law Program, otherwise known as 480-a. This program helps landowners with 50 or more contiguous forest acres to reduce the property taxes they pay on their forestland in exchange for a commitment to the long-term conservation and management of their woods. This blog post highlights 480-a and its potential benefits and problem areas to encourage eligible landowners to explore how 480-a might work for their woodlots.
A forester once told me that people tend to glaze over, perhaps even startle themselves awake with their own snoring, when the conversation shifts to New York’s Forest Tax Law Program, otherwise known as 480-a. There is certainly a lot to know in terms of eligibility and program requirements, potential benefits, drawbacks, and even penalties. In its simplest sense, 480-a represents a way for landowners with 50 or more contiguous forest acres to reduce the property taxes they pay on their forestland in exchange for a commitment to the long-term conservation and management of their woods. So, what would give you the initiative to dig into the fine print about 480-a? I think the answer could be: having enough knowledge about the program to envision how it might support the values and objectives that you have for your woodlot.
Based on our Conservation Awareness Index survey of nearly 800 New York City (NYC) Watershed landowners, 68% reported that they had “Not heard of” or knew “Nothing at all” about 480-a. This is significant because high property taxes, among other factors (like age/physical limitations or simply needing money), can drive landowners to subdivide and sell their land, which can lead to fragmentation and loss of forestland. The purpose of this blog is simply to increase awareness about 480-a. Ideally, it will encourage eligible landowners to explore the program more deeply to determine if it is a good fit for their woodlot/situation.
New York State’s Forest Tax Law Program (480-a) was enacted in 1974 to provide a steady flow of wood for the forest products industry. By enrolling in 480-a, a landowner is committing to the long-term management of their woods to produce a continuous forest crop. In return, they can exempt up to 80% of the assessed value of the enrolled acreage from property taxes. It is a rolling 10-year commitment, so each year that a landowner receives a tax benefit, they are committing to another 10 years of forest management. There is a lien on the property deed, so the 480-a rules and regulations would apply to the next forest owner.
Based on a review of the resources listed below and from interviews with consulting foresters and 480-a participants, I will attempt to summarize the benefits and potential drawbacks of 480-a. Hopefully, this list will help to get you thinking about how 480-a might work for your own situation.
Boundary line maintenance is a regularly scheduled activity in the forest management plan, occurring once every five years.
Non-commercial timber stand improvement (TSI) work clears space and frees up resources (i.e., light, nutrients, and water) to help commercial tree species grow. TSI work is also a regularly scheduled activity in the forest management plan. Yes, it looks messy, but the animals LOVE IT!
The primary goal of the 480-a program is to provide a continuous wood supply for the forest products industry. Logging also provides a source of income for landowners.
Potential problem areas
I talked to a landowner that got out of 480-a immediately and without penalty by selling his land to the NYC DEP. It is now a public access, Watershed recreation/water supply land. NYC DEP has 135,000 acres of these parcels in the Watershed.
There, I put it all out there as I understand it. Now it’s your turn to see what 480-a means for you. You could:
Special benefits for NYC Watershed Landowners
If your woodlot is located in the NYC Watershed (click here to find out) and it qualifies for 480-a, The Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) Forestry Program offers an enrolment incentive that pays approved landowners $491.73, plus $6.01 per acre of forestland that they enroll in the program. This incentive helps to offset the cost of hiring a private consulting forester to provide you with a forest management plan, which is a 480-a enrolment pre-requisite.
As 480-a requires a forest management plan update every five years, the WAC Forestry Program also offers an update incentive to approved landowners in the amount of $327.82, plus $0.56 per acre of forestland that they re-enroll in 480-a.