VIRGINIA BOARD OF FORESTRY

Senate Joint Resolution #75
Public Meeting Summary
Department of Forestry, Central Office
July 29, 2004

At a public meeting held at the Department of Forestry, Central Office, Charlottesville, Virginia, on the evening of July 29, 2004, 16 Virginia residents spoke in response to the following question:

“What factors, issues, and concerns affect your decision to own, manage, and conserve forestland?”

The comments of the speakers have been briefly summarized and compiled in the following paragraphs. Topics that were addressed by more than one speaker are listed in parentheses.

Incentives

If society deems that preserving forest spaces are a worthwhile venture, then society needs to help funds incentives.

Encourage the Department of Forestry to consider incentives in conjunction with other aspects of existing state policy, such as technical research, outreach, extension on forest practices and the relationship of forestry to other environmental resources and enforcement of forestry and other environmental laws.

Tax on Gasoline/Diesel: Add one cent on a gallon of gas and diesel dedicated specifically to a conservation fund solely for conservation.

Control of Invasive Species: Invasive species, especially ailanthus, is taking over the forests, which reduces the marketable management of the land. Virginia needs some type of statewide incentive to stop the spread of ailanthus. There needs to be an incentive program for herbicides or consulting services to provide landowners with best way to get rid of invasive species on their lands.

Need to recognize the fact that Virginia, with all the terrific incentive programs and tax programs, doesn’t take enough money out of our pockets to make a difference. Federal government does. The speaker has asked Virgil Goode to replicate at the Federal level the same transferable tax credit at the State level.

Need to take a serious look at how to pay the people that own the timberland that retire their development rights, not necessarily using a tax credit or conservation easement, but place easements on their property in a way that cash is placed in the hands of the forest landowners on the spot, not later on down the road. Virginia citizens would need to pay a little more taxes to create a fund within the next 20 years to do any good.

Estate Taxation

Inheritance Tax: It is common for heirs to sell land for development because of cost of taxes to inherit the land. The state needs to make it easy for heirs to keep the property. Get rid of inheritance tax.

Property Taxation

Property Taxes (4): Reducing and/or eliminating property taxes would encourage landowners to hold and increase their forest holdings. A tax credit for landowners that demonstrate good forest management should be developed.

Property tax laws are inconsistent throughout every county. There is a need for a state mandated property tax reform.

Consider a tax credit in the state tax code for land that has a history of agriculture or forestry production for a period of 10 years and landowner has agreed to maintain for the next 10 years would receive a tax credit for that 10 year period. This would add value to the forestland for an heir.

Repeal of state taxes could enhance the ability of the private landowner to maintain property within the family and relieve the burden upon the death of a family member.

Land-Use Tax (4): For land-use tax purposes, there is no definition of forestry and what constitutes adequately planted hardwood forest. The Department of Forestry should address that problem.

The General Assembly needs to look at the land-use tax incentive problems and work with counties to come up with a solution. The current land-use taxation system benefits developers. Land-use taxation should require landowners to do best management practices (BMP’s). Having BMP’s as a requirement would encourage landowners to better manage their forest. This would tie-up the land for several years and should make the landowner realize the value of the land when better managed.

One of the biggest threats to the timber resource on private land is conversion. Incentives are greater for private landowners to sub-divide and sell than they are to maintain their forest resources. I would support statewide land-use taxation on forestland. I would recommend a tax incentive be created based on the type of forest and for those that are maintaining an ecologically functional forest, as well as economically functional forest.

Conservation Easements

Conservation easements are offered as an alternative to conservation management. Conservation easements are good in some cases, but are not the best for many families or even include options. Perpetuity is a long-time. Families want and deserve tax breaks and want options for their grandchildren. Families are not protected as they are lead to believe.

Conservation easements give the landowner the opportunity to get tax credits. Landowners can sell tax credits to others, for 80 percent of the value of the land. In order for landowners to sell tax credits, they must have $400,000 in income to use $20,000 in tax credit. Recommends Virginia make good on its promise to make provision for that money to be available to those landowners that put their land in easements as a direct payment with the various organizations (Outdoor Foundation, Department of Conservation and Recreation) in Virginia and let them pay for the tax credits. Virginia has promised this to landowners, they need to make that promise good.

Local Ordinances

Local Ordinances: Local government interferes by placing non-sensible zoning and ordinances. County government continues to devay land management through ordinances forcing landowners to divide and sell portions of their land. The actions of county government will lead to increased fragmentation to investors and/or subdivision.

One of the big concerns is the proliferation of local state ordinances, regulations, zoning and practices that are prohibiting the use of forestland as a forest commodity, forest investment, or typical forest use.

Forest Management/Forestry Programs

There needs to be a way for landowners who purchase land to have access to previous records of conservation practices prior to the purchase so the current landowner can continue with the conservation efforts.

As a finite resource, the cost of timber continues to rise. The Board of Forestry should look at ways to encourage landowners to allow their land to be used for timber production. The state has inadequate regulations and many landowners will cease to manage land for timber production. A major focus should be to improve forest management practices in the state. Private landowners need assurance that a logging operation will not ruin the land.

Right to Practice Forestry (4): Would recommend the state develop a landowner bill of rights. The state should mandate to local governments the recognition of private property rights of landowners.

Virginia needs a right to practice forestry law. Need to convince localities that the basis for economic viability is sustainable conservation and not preservation. The Dillon Rule is necessary to maintain an economic and biologic ecosystem. Forest ecosystems cannot function if fragmented legally, physically, or biologically.

I would encourage the Department of Forestry, through the Governor and the General Assembly, to consider incentives in the context of the statewide forest policy previously discussed in the DOF 2014 Shaping Virginia’s Forest publication.

Fragmentation (2): A primary threat to the future of forests throughout Virginia is posed by developers, who have no vested interest in preserving the forest.

There needs to be some checks and balances on sprawl. Money is available for localities to create green space development. Localities need to have a conservation program on-going and then apply for a grant from this fund. There needs to be some tweaking of the numbers on how much money is available to localities for green space development.

Riparian Forest: Special attention should be paid to preserving riparian forests. There should be special consideration/provision as for open space, forestall activities, agriculture activities, etc. From a policy point of view, Virginia should consider a program like ACE which is specifically designed to protect watersheds and to create new buffers and preserve existing ones.

Reforestation of Timberlands Program: At one time, the RT program had so much money it didn’t’know how to spend it all. Now, a landowner can only get $22/acre up to 100 acres. There is very little money for reforestation. Would like to see the General Assembly fully fund the RT program and match contributions.

Education

I would encourage county forestry personnel to participate in a monthly or bi-weekly column in local newspapers, such as agriculture extension does for people interested in local agricultural endeavors. This would be an easy thing to do. Information could be worked up centrally and distributed to county foresters.

There is a need for education through the Department of Forestry and Virginia Tech. Would like to see the College of Natural Resources put more emphasis on training foresters to work with small woodland owners with different management objectives.

Department of Forestry

The Department of Forestry needs to make is as easy as possible for landowners to get information on how to plant a hardwood forest. The website has a lot of information, but the website should be seamless avenue of information for people who are interested in planting small or large plots, specifically hardwood.

DOF Staffing (2): Staff the Department of Forestry to meet landowners need. The needs are especially great in the urban interface, where consultants can’t afford to provide services. Foresters are needed to be available to provide standard forestry advice, as well as to assist and extend the Outreach program of Virginia Tech Extension. These foresters may be trained differently from standard field foresters.

Increased funding is needed for Department of Forestry staffing to focus on education. During recent staffing cuts, those positions focusing on education were vacated. Until proper funding is devoted for education, we will continue to have landowners that are not fully informed on what they can do with their forest.

Years ago landowners would go to the Department of Forestry for landowner assistance, there were no consultants. Consultants provide many valuable services, but there are also many advice or educational situations where the consultants cannot make money. This problem is partially solved with the Stewardship Program. I recommend a program to subsidize certified forestry consultants to do urban interface work, which does not involve a timber sale or a sale too small to pay expenses of the consultant. This would cost less than Department staff.

Other Comments

The government’s role should be that of incentives and education, not regulation.

All loggers should be certified, including training in environmental concerns, soil, water, biodiversity, etc. Landowners need assurance that they are hiring someone whose is going to take care of the land and log wisely.

Only way citizens will protect their forest is to work together with government, not against government. We’re all in it together and we need a lot of communication.

We need to focus more on tree needs. This should peak the interest of landowners and they would be less likely to put their forests into other uses.