Current Use: What it Takes
In this second article about Vermont’s Current Use program, we explore how to get started. Current Use can apply to either agricultural land or forest land. For our purposes, we will focus on forest land. As always, we endeavor to provide information that is as clear as possible; however, as with many subjects, the answers are not always cut and dried. For more details and clarification, interested readers should check the links at the end of this article.
Now that you know more about the Current Use program, you are probably wondering how to get started with enrolling your property. Seems like the application deadline is a long way off, so is there really anything that needs to be done now? The answer is a resounding YES! The most important point to realize is enrolling in Current Use is a process as is maintaining the property once it is enrolled. Therefore, it is imperative that you get started as soon as possible.
All properties enrolled in Current Use are required to have a forest management plan in place, and that plan must be filed with the County Forester by October 1 of the year preceding enrollment. So, for a new enrollment or new parcel of land in Tax Year 2022, the application is due September 1, 2021, and the forest management plan is due October 1, 2021. In this example, your 2022 tax bill, usually received during early summer of that year, will be the first tax bill reflecting the reduced amount.
But these forest management plans don’t come easily – there is a lot of information and detail that need to be provided as well as a strategy for renewal every 10 years. The forest management plan should clearly state your long-term forest management goals, describe forest stand conditions, including tree inventory data, forest management objectives and treatments, and include both a detailed map and schedule for forest management activities. That forest inventory, plan writing, and data processing are very time-consuming.
Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation has provided a template of a forest management plan you can use, but, as with most things, you are doing yourself and your property an injustice if you try to pull together the plan and related documents without the help of a Licensed Consulting forester.
County foresters are employed by the State of Vermont to administer the Current Use program; therefore, they do not write plans. Consulting Foresters do. Vermont Woodlands Association maintains membership for Licensed Consulting Foresters. These are foresters who share the same commitment to productive stewardship of our woodlands and whose focus is working for landowners like you. We recommend you review the Directory to find a forester near you for a consultation.
The time to contact a forester is now. As with many professions, foresters are at the mercy of the weather. In addition, foresters can have any number of clients on a variety of schedules so it is important to contact a forester as soon as possible to make that initial connection (or, hopefully, reconnection with a forester who you have worked with in the past). You might want to contact a few foresters in your area to select the right consultant as this should be a long-lasting relationship.
For most enrollments, you will submit an application to the Tax Department as well as your management plan and maps to the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation for enrollment. The point of the management plan is NOT to tell you how to manage your property. The main objective in requiring a management plan is to ensure the land is managed carefully. Current Use enrollment allows for forest lands, managed for timber, to be enrolled. Areas considered ecologically significant, significant wildlife habitat, or forest wetlands still may be eligible and can be managed with more latitude to protect a particular resource. Because most of your land must be managed for timber production, your forest plan will focus on growing trees, either by promoting the growth of existing trees or by creating conditions by which new trees can grow. You will likely have other objectives: recreation, sugaring, or protection of wetland or other wildlife habitat. A good management plan, keeping timber production in the forefront, will protect, promote, or improve all these other facets of your property where feasible. This is why forester involvement is so crucial – there are many requirements related to each choice you make about your forest land, and a forester can help you consider every possible outcome before finalizing each decision.
Assuming your forest land is accepted into the program, congratulations! Now the work continues – you have a responsibility to maintain your forest land based on the information you and your forester laid out in your management plan. That could be starting to work toward a timber harvest or focusing on special treatment for a riparian area. Whatever you committed to in your plan is what you will do, and you’ll submit a forest management activity report each year that you perform activity on the land – more on that later though. For now, focus on deciding what you want to manage for and finding a forester to help you get (re)started.
Missed the last article in the series? Click here to read some basic facts about Current Use for interested owners of forest land.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, where we will start to explore the myths about the program. In the meantime, check these links for more information:
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