What is Current Use?
Current Use is a win-win-win program that the state offers to landowners in Vermont. It allows landowners to save on property taxes, helps conserve forest and farm land, and supports the working landscape. These multiple goals embodied in Current Use are what make it such a successful land conservation program in Vermont.
The main idea of Current Use is to tax land at the value for which it is being used. Instead of property being taxed at its “highest and best use” price, which is essentially its maximum value as a development, it gets taxed at a rate more compatible with income derived from forestry and/or farming. The result is that landowners have less pressure to build because of elevated property taxes.
A second major goal is to allow woodlands to continue to provide ecological, environmental and cultural benefits important to Vermont. This includes wetland protection, wildlife habitat, nutrient cycling erosion control and the like. Also, a well forested landscape provides important recreation opportunities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, birding, and general peace and solitude.
Third, the Current Use Program is meant to support the working landscape. By providing local sourced raw materials for lumber, pulp and wood heat, a well-managed forest provides income to landowners while creating jobs for loggers, mills, land managers and others.
In short, by enrolling in Current Use landowners agree not to develop their land, and to manage it for forest or farm products. In doing so, their property taxes will be reduced, and in most cases reduced dramatically.
How Does Current Use Work?
Current Use is available for both forest land and farm land. There are many nuances to how Current Use works, but here are the basics.
Forest land owners can put all or part of their acreage into the program, except for two acres that must be excluded around any house or dwelling. The minimum parcel size that can be entered is 25 acres, or 27 acres if there is a house.
Landowners who enter the program must agree to two main principals.
First, land that is enrolled cannot be developed. If it is developed, the landowner is subject to a penalty, which can be significant depending on the value of the land being withdrawn from the program.
I always tell my clients that if there are areas of their land that are never likely to be developed, then those are perfect areas to enter into Current Use. If there are other areas where options should remain open to build on someday, then those areas should be excluded from enrollment.
Second, the land must be managed for forestry. Work is guided by a forest management plan and map. How this type of plan is developed, and what it contains, are described in more detail below.
By agreeing to not develop land, and to manage it for forestry, the state then taxes the land at its “use value” – the value for which the land is being used. This amounts to a substantial reduction on property taxes. It varies by town, but the reduction in the land portion of a property tax bill can be significant, sometimes 70%, 80% or even 90%!
The Agriculture program is available to any farmer with more than 25 acres in agriculture, or to a landowner that has a lease with a bonified farmer for more than $2,000/year. Farm buildings are also exempt from property taxes under this program, which can be another huge tax saving.
Forest Management Plan
To get in the Current Use program, landowners are required to submit a 10-year forest management plan. The plan covers topics such as timber management, regeneration, wildlife, trail layout and other topics. The plan must be submitted to a County Forester for approval.
One of the main services we offer at Long Meadow Resource Management is to develop management plans and maps for landowners that meet the requirements of the Current Use program, while at the same time fulfilling landowner goals and aspirations. The management planning process allows us to learn what aspects of land ownership are most important to our clients, be it song bird habitat, wildlife viewing, generating income, outdoor recreation, or other values. At the same time, landowners come to understand more about the natural resources on their land. These discussions, along with the inventory process, are used to organize thoughts about how the land should be used, and to design an implementation strategy. Regardless of Current Use, it is an excellent idea for landowners to create a solid management plan for their properties.
County forester approval is required for all Current Use management plans. Though certain requirements must be met, there is great flexibility in how management can occur. A good plan will help landowners meet their goals, while satisfying the objective of Current Use to support the local working landscape economy in a sustainable manner. So, a plan that proposes to cut every single tree without regard to its environmental impacts will not be approved. Neither will a plan that says no trees will ever get cut. Plans must be written and executed with good forest management in mind.
Mapping the Land
We start the management planning process by creating a GIS map of the property. This includes finding boundaries, understanding the lay of the land, and picking up on important geographic and cultural features.
Once a map is created, the property is delineated into forest stands. This helps organize the property into treatment areas, special places, natural communities and the like. Inventory plots are then mapped out to help guide the field data collection process, or forest inventory. The map is field checked and updated during the inventory process.
Forest Inventory – The Heart of a Management Plan
Before important decisions can be made on how to manage a property, you need to know what is in the woods. A forest inventory is used to reach all areas of a property and gather as much information as possible about the area. We examine characteristics from the depths of the soil to the tops of the trees, and everything in between.
Tree data that is collected includes species, size, quality, diseases, wildlife usage and other features. This gives us a clear picture of the forest structure, species distribution, timber values and forest health.
Ecological data gathered varies depending on landowner preferences, but could include herbaceous species, wetland features, natural communities and wildlife habitat. Sensitive areas such as wetlands, rare or unusual natural communities, vernal pools and other areas are identified and mapped.
Cultural information is collected to get a sense of past practices that shaped the land as it appears today. Historic features such as stone walls, cellar holes and old roads are recorded. Trail and recreational features are also documented as part of the inventory.
Once field data is collected and processed, the resulting information is combined with the landowner goals to compose a management plan custom tailored to each parcel.
Vermont Foresters Can Help
By hiring a forester, landowners are guided through the process of successfully enrolling property into the Current Use program. Once the property is enrolled, Long Meadow Resource Management will assist in managing forests for both short-term and long-term goals. We work with both landowners who want to take an active role in the process, as well as those who are happy to leave most decisions up to our expertise.
According to the Vermont Department of Taxes, over 18,400 properties have been enrolled in Current Use. This is in excess of 2.4 million acres, or about a third of Vermont’s land base. It’s no wonder that this popular program is so successful, considering the multiple benefits it offers to the state. Please feel free to click the Contact link on the top menu if you would like to learn more about the benefits of Current Use for your property.