DEC eyes improvements to forestry tax breaks

State conservation officials are holding public meetings across New York to consider possible improvements in the program that provides property tax breaks to the private owners of forestland.

Established under a 1974 amendment to an earlier law, the 480-A program provides owners of 50 acres or more tax incentives for “continued production of forest crops.” The state is looking for ways to enroll more owners.

The program provides abatements up to 80 percent on property taxes for owners who agree to reserve their land for timber production and not development. It requires a 10-year commitment with logging based on a management plan devised by a qualified forester and approved by the DEC.

There’s also a 6 percent yield tax on trees sold.

A state tax department analysis in 2017 said only a fraction of eligible forestland across New York was enrolled.

The Cuomo administration omitted from its 2019 budget proposals one would have authorized tax cuts for owners of smaller forested parcels of 25 acres or more.

That proposal, which was contained in last year’s administration budget proposal, apparently got dropped by legislators along with another Cuomo administration proposal to cap at 2 percent the state’s payments on property it owns. Municipal officials opposed  reductions in their property tax base.

This year, DEC officials instead are pursuing ways to improve the program administratively. One of the eight public meetings for landowners and other stakeholders, scheduled in February and March, will be in northern New York, March 7 in Plattsburgh.

According to the department, the meetings are meant for discussing program areas that could be improved. They include reducing administrative burdens, improving forestry outcomes and increasing compliance.

Currently, more than 3,400 landowners and 1.2 million acres are enrolled. Changes under consideration would not alter the annual tax benefit, stumpage tax, commitment period or penalties for non-compliance, the DEC said.

Commissioner Basil Seggos said private interests own 75 percent of New York’s forests, which provide logging products, wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air and scenic beauty. “Forests also are integral to the uptake and storage of carbon and area a critical component in addressing the threats posed by climate change,” he said.

Within the 5.8-million acre Adirondack Park, 2.6 million acres are state owned and by law are to remain wild. Some 780,000 privately owned acres within the park are covered by state conservation agreements that prohibit commercial development, allow some public recreation and require logging less than an easement parcel’s tree growth. 

In 2017, the state paid $4.7 million of the taxes on easement lands in the 12 counties that are at least partially inside the Adirondack Park, according to the Department of Tax and Finance.

About Michael Virtanen

Michael Virtanen is a former Explorer staff reporter who also previously worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press and for daily newspapers in Albany, Utica and Amsterdam, N.Y.

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