VIRGINIA BOARD OF FORESTRY

Senate Joint Resolution #75
Public Meeting Summary
Chesapeake Conference Center
July 27, 2004

At a public meeting held at Chesapeake Conference Center in Chesapeake, Virginia, on the evening of July 27, 2004, 13 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

Current incentive programs do not benefit the landowners to the point of a break-even proposition. Because of this, landowners consider selling their land to developers to make money, although they would rather conserve the forest land.

It is recommended that the Department of Forestry be proactive in negotiating with counties for assistance to landowners in walking them through the process of securing incentives. With some encouragement and assistance, landowners may be willing to continue to maintain their land in forest.

Tax Credit: Virginia should have an easily implemented state supported tax credit program for landowners when they are reforesting, especially in an environmentally sensitive area.

Estate Taxation

Inheritance Tax (2). Need to provide a tax relief for landowners. The cost of the inheritance tax is responsible for a lot of land being sold and not managed for forest production.

Property Tax

Statewide Land Use Tax (2). In Virginia, counties have the option of offering land-use tax to landowners. In Indiana, they offer a Classified Forest Program which provides better tax incentives and has reduced the problem of fragmentation, which is a growing concern for Virginia. Three primary benefits of Indiana’s Classified Forest Program are: reduced property taxes, regular forest inspections by a professional forester, and an annual newsletter to forestry groups.

Land-use evaluation program is necessary for landowners to keep land in forestry. The Department of Forestry needs to be more proactive in promoting land use valuation in communities where landowners can benefit from this program. There needs to be an update of the land-use evaluation program. It is a cumbersome law and is difficult for the landowner to understand. Currently the acreage limit is 20-acres. With smaller land holdings, the localities need some flexibility to reduce the acreage limit to 10 or 15 acres. A review of the land-use evaluation program needs to be conducted to see what is counterproductive for the landowner to manage their forestland.

Property Taxes. Support concept of state mandated property tax reform, such as elimination or reduction of property taxes for forest land, especially land taken out of production for riparian areas or other environmental protection.

Local Ordinances

Local Ordinances: Local governments around the state are enacting forestry ordinances that duplicate or conflict with state forestry laws and prevent landowners from implementing forestry practices or timbering property operations. Local forestry regulations can impose substantial costs on private forest landowners creating disincentives for the continuation of forestry operations on their lands.

Forest Management/Forestry Programs

Clearcutting: Although clearcutting is an effective management tool, there should be legislation that would require a 50 foot buffer around all clearcuts. The Department of Forestry needs to be supportive of this legislation.

The Department of Forestry should be a better resource for contractors to do salvage and selective cutting. Selective cutting and salvage cutting should be encouraged by the Department of Forestry.

Right to Practice Forestry (2): Virginia needs a state law that protects a forest landowner’s right to practice forestry on their property and prevent passage of unreasonable local ordinances.

RT Program (2). The General Assembly should enact a state law to mandate a state budget that fully matches the forest products industry severance tax contribution to the state’s Reforestation of Timberlands Program.

Forest Buffers: Opposed to regulations requiring buffers along roads and property lines. There are some buffer requirements based on sound science (SMZ’s). What is the science behind visual buffers? What is aesthetically pleasing to some is not to others. There needs to be good sound reasons to impose buffers.

Department of Forestry (7)

Recommend the Department specify native and non-native species in seedling catalog.

Recommend the Department of Forestry work more closely with fire marshals of various counties, particularly those that have a lot of urban growth, to emphasize the opportunities for landowners to do prescribe burning on their property.

The Department of Forestry needs to be more customer-friendly. Landowners do not know what services the Department of Forestry offers. Landowners are missing out on incentives.

The Department of Forestry is under funded. The General Assembly needs to be encouraged to fully fund the Department and its incentive programs.

The Department of Forestry needs to follow-up on trees that have been planted in buffers. The survival rate is low. Shelters are in need of repair/fixing. CREP is a good program, but some technical improvements need to be made.

The Department of Forestry needs to work more with SLEAC.

Other Issues

Important that we recognize the economic and quality of life contribution the forests of Virginia make to our society. If committed to maintain 15 million acres of forest in Virginia, then must realize that incentives for forest landowners are part of the solution.

Concerned about liability issues involved with maintaining forest because of problem with developments building up to the property line. There should be some type of legislation that provides limited liability protection for landowners.

Investigate the possibility of group liability insurance available for forest landowners.

Landowners are having problems getting rid of downed timber. The average landowner cannot take logs to the mill; therefore, the logs go bad before a logger can get to the property.

Neighbors should be notified of all aerial spraying.