VIRGINIA BOARD OF FORESTRY

Senate Joint Resolution #75
Public Meeting Summary
Fort Lewis Fire Department
July 21, 2004

At a public meeting held at Fort Lewis Fire Department in Salem, Virginia, on the evening of July 21, 2004, twelve 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.

Taxation

Forestry Practices. The Board of Forestry needs to keep forests in forestry through incentives. Forest practices that are restorative should not be taxed. Provide incentives for landowners to leave forests in an improved condition. Forestry practices that liquidate the resource should be heavily taxed.

Real Estate Taxes. State mandates tax assessment of 100 percent of the value of the real estate. State needs to look at the completed sales. Currently the state takes the blanket approach across the board on all land. The mandate is land growing trees has to be assessed at 100 percent the value when they should be more reasonably assessed. Landowners shouldn’t have to pay $5,000 an acre just for growing trees.

Estate Taxes. After ten years, put land in a forest management program and stop taxes on it. Give Mom and Dad a true incentive to keep it. Estate taxes are the real problem. Landowners need a true incentive. It’s not right for landowners to provide open space and for the government to cut them an itsy bitsy tax break.

Severance Taxes. Landowners need a severance tax for development. Developers should pay for developing and destroying forestland. Landowners need less government. Landowners forget what they have and who they are. They have the most important gift to give.

Land-Use Taxation (4): Counties need to adopt all of the land-use tax provisions. Some counties only offer land-use tax for farmland. Forest landowners do not have as loud a voice. The General Assembly needs to mandate equal grants of incentives for both.

Land-use value taxation needs to be promoted and forests must be included.

Need to have mandatory land-use taxation across the board. Otherwise, do away with it because taxes will go down.

Land-use value needs to be addressed.

Tax Incentives. Landowners need help in setting up forestland cooperatives. The legal fees are expensive. More money needs to be returned to the landowner and the COOP.

Conservation Incentives

The Department of Forestry should join conservation groups and encourage landowners to seek conservation easements. Landowners pay less taxes and the property is worth more if it is adjacent to a conservation easement because development won’t occur.

Conservation Disincentives

Local Ordinances: Prevent local governments from enacting local ordinances that act as disincentives for landowners to practice forestry. Although well meaning, they are not helpful. Landowners have to be able to practice forestry.

Forest Management

Farmers and loggers control water quality. If forests aren’t managed, they aren’t productive.

Need to invest in forest management. Need more money to create management plans and make it worth while in the long-term. Landowners need to learn forest dynamics.

Practice restorative forestry –take the worst, leave the best, and apply active management.

Best Management Practices (BMP). BMP’s will become so restrictive that it won’t be profitable to manage timberland in the mountains, but will primarily be for riparian areas that may or may not have water in them. The best timber is located in the cove sites.

When drafting future BMP’s, need to remember the timber industry is operating under guidelines that are making it tough to practice forestry.

Forest Legacy (2): Offer forest legacy money to buy conservation easements to keep land undeveloped and in management. Consider drawing up stewardship plans free of charge for landowners who will donate development rights to the Commonwealth in the form of a conservation easement. Stewardship plan costs are high, which creates a disincentive for conservation easements.

Need to campaign for the forest legacy program. Seek USDA Forest Service money to help pay management costs to bring land up to speed for long-term investment.

Conserve, not preserve the forests. A healthy forest is a logged forest because it is economically feasible.

Reforestation. Profit/loss statements from farmers indicate that reforestation through DOF or land-use tax is a big item. Reforestation makes sense period from a bottom line standpoint. Landowners want to have multiple markets for its products. The legislature needs to facilitate industries and use what we have coming from the farms and foster some good healthy competition in pulpwood and lumber industries. This is not a DOF problem, but an overall economic problem.

RT Program. The State budget should match forest industry severance contribution.

Urban Forestry (4): Transfer of payments for water yields. Protect against urban centers stealing water. Reinvest in rural America. The money stays in urban and money needs to go back to the rural areas.

Ag and forestal districts are not recognized in every county. We have tried in vain to get the districts recognized by the counties. Rural landowners subsidize the urban areas.

The Department of Forestry needs to continue its support of the urban forestry program to provide grants and technical advice for tree planting in cities and jurisdictions to increase the tree canopy in Roanoke by 10 percent. The goal is one new tree planted on private land for every city resident. The Department must help with this goal, which in turn will meet EPA’s air quality requirements.

Western Virginia Land Trust thanks the Department of Forestry for grants and landowner workshops. Please continue urban forestry grants to local land trusts for this purpose.

Cost-Share Programs. The Department of Forestry needs to continue to share costs of installing vegetative strips to protect water quality, by installing fencing and re-vegetating stream banks to shelter water from pollutants.

Fragmentation

There are two growing problems. Tracts of land are being auctioned off, chopped, and sliced to meet minimum zoning requirements for subdivisions. Loosing wonderful forestland to 2-5 acre tracts. Need some incentives for landowners to buy, hold, manage, and preserve their forestland.

Cluster developments are a problem in Albemarle County. A 100-acre tract of land will be divided into 10 lots on 20 acres. The other 80 acres is left in a conservation easement.

Realtors cut forestland into lots because their responsibility is to get top dollar for the client. This is damaging to the forestland.

Other Issues

Forestry hasn’t done as well as farm aid in saving the family forest as much as saving the family farm.

Quantify in dollars and cents the values of ecological benefits of the forest.

The Department of Forestry has taken a back seat to localities that set up tax rates and ordinances. The Department should be encouraging forestry within the counties and talking up the benefits of forests.

Train low impact harvesting. Conventional methods destroy forestland and damages the environment.

Need more research on developing forest products.

Government just needs to get out of the way.

Loggers need to clean up their act a little bit.