Act 146. Act 146 changes Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal (UVA)
As you may know, the Governor signed H.697 into law – now Act 146. Act 146 changes Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal (UVA) Program by adding a subcategory to Managed Forestland called ‘Reserve Forestland.’ Appropriately, folks have questions. I’m writing to provide an overview of the law to help you respond to questions from landowners, understand the timeline and process for the rollout of this new enrollment option, and how you can engage in the process.
What was the law that passed?
- Act 146 creates a new enrollment subcategory in the Managed Forestland category called Reserve Forestland, with enrollments in the subcategory beginning July 1, 2023.
- Reserve Forestland focuses on managing for old forest functions and values.
- To be enrolled, parcels must meet specific eligibility requirements based on how much significant and sensitive conditions exists on the parcel, emphasizing locations with barriers to active forest management.
- Once a parcel demonstrates eligibility, any of the forestland acres may be enrolled as Reserve Forestland.
- It is estimated that approximately 15% of UVA eligible parcels (including currently enrolled parcels) would also be eligible for enrollment in this subcategory.
- The law requires that the Minimum Management Standards defining the eligibility and management details for this subcategory be finalized by FPR by December 31, 2022. These standards are not yet finalized (more on this below).
What parcels are eligible for the Reserve Forestland subcategory?
- To be eligible, parcels must be composed of a certain percentage of significant and sensitive conditions based on the size of the parcel.
- Significant and sensitive conditions will be defined by the Commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. Though they aren’t finalized, they will generally consist of Ecologically Significant Treatment Areas (ESTAs), steep slopes >35%, site IV lands, and special places and sensitive sites.
- Eligibility Thresholds:
- Parcels < 100 acres: 50% or more of the enrolled parcel acres need to be composed of significant and sensitive conditions, per program standards.
- Parcels ≥ 100 acres: 30% or more of the enrolled parcel acres need to be composed of significant and sensitive conditions, per program standards.
When can landowners enroll?
- The new subcategory will not go into effect until July 1, 2023.
- Landowners will not be able to submit applications for enrollment of land in this new category until July 1, 2023.
- Landowners due for a forest management plan update on April 1, 2023, will not be able to include enrollment of Reserve Forestland into their plan update. No extensions will be provided to the deadline on the basis of seeking to enroll in Reserve Forestland.
- Landowners with eligible parcels will be able to amend their forest management plan for enrollment of Reserve Forestland after July 1, 2023.
What are the management requirements?
- As noted above, the Minimum Management Standards defining the eligibility details for this subcategory are not finalized. Act 146 dictates that these need to be completed by FPR by December 31, 2022.
- Many of the management requirements were considered in a report to the legislature last year. Pages 17 – 23 of the report summarizes some eligibility and administration elements that were contemplated and are required by statute to serve as a foundation for the standards and administration of Reserve Forestland. Please note that the legislative process modified some details of the eligibility criteria for parcels less than 100 acres.
- The Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation is charged with establishing the final standards for this category. We will work through the summer on developing a draft of these standards with the involvement of members of the Private Lands Advisory Committee (PLAC). In late summer or early fall, we’ll hold a consulting forester meeting to review the draft standards, ask questions, and help us improve them. In addition, outside of this meeting and involvement with PLAC, FPR will welcome input that helps the rollout and administration of this new subcategory to be successful. Input can be provided to Keith Thompson, FPR Private Lands Program Manager, at email@example.com or (802) 498-5169.
- Reserve Forestland is not a “do nothing” enrollment option. While the requirements for the category are not finalized, if a property is eligible, restorative management for old forest values and functions will be required under certain but somewhat common conditions. Required restorative strategies may include invasive plant control and restoration of hydrologic function, or others. Where restorative management for old forest values and functions is not required, passive management will be eligible. Additionally, the management planning process will be somewhat involved, requiring documentation of ESTAs and other features to establish eligibility and to demonstrate contributions and progress towards old forest values and functions on land enrolled as Reserve Forestland.
How will the impact of this subcategory be evaluated?
- The law requires reports to be produced to track progress. Property Valuation and Review (PVR) produces an annual report that will now be required to include how enrollment of Managed Forestland changes with respect to status of enrollment of Reserve Forestland or Ecologically Significant Treatment Areas.
- The law also requires the development of a comprehensive report in 2026 that evaluates contributions of the category to old forest, impacts to working lands enrollments, and more.
This change to UVA values and accelerates the development of old forest conditions in a pattern and at a scale that we would benefit from and are sorely lacking on our landscape, and it does so in a meaningful but conservative way that preserves working lands as the primary focus of the Managed Forestland category of the UVA program.
We will keep you informed as more information is available and details of the opportunities for engagement are finalized. In the meantime, if you have questions about this subcategory or the process, or input you would like to provide, please reach out to Keith Thompson, FPR Private Lands Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit VTforest.com to stay informed.