Wisconsin Assembly committee looking at major changes to Managed Forest Law program
More than half of the forested land in the state is owned by small private woodland owners. And they should pay attention to proposed changes to the state’s Managed Forest Law (MFL) that are on the horizon.
The Assembly Environment and Forestry Committee held a hearing on AB-700 which will revamp MFL. Many people think the changes will be an improvement.
Currently about 40,000 households have their woodlands enrolled in MFL, a program started in 1985 to encourage sustainable forest management. The law provides a property tax benefit in exchange for a long-term commitment to practice sustainable forestry.
The DNR thinks the program is very successful, with more than three million acres of private forest land enrolled.
In exchange for the tax benefit, landowners must have a consultant prepare a plan for their woods and follow the actions that often will call for harvest of mature trees in later years. The goal is to provide wood for wood industries and mills, habitat for wildlife, and clean air and water resulting from sustainable forestry practices.
This bill will provide many changes affecting people who enrolled land in the program, and those who are not in the program, but may now considering signing up.
Six more noticeable changes, which came originally from recommendations by the Council on Forestry, include:
• Landowners may lease their MFL land under AB-700. This has often been desired by landowners for hunting purposes. It would bring in money to landowners to help pay taxes and management activities. The current program does not allow leasing, but does require some degree of public access, depending on how the property is enrolled in MFL.
• Landowners may now withdraw a portion of their land from MFL without having to withdraw the full parcel.
• A landowner may no longer have an improvement (i.e. home or cabin that has assessed value) on their MFL land. This means a landowner would have to take out one acre on which the structure sits, and the remainder may remain in MFL.
• If the MFL land is “open” to the public for recreational use, the landowner must allow people to access the land by the same route that the landowner uses. This closes a loophole where “open” land was surrounded by closed land and people had no access or access by a difficult route.
• The minimum acreage that may be enrolled will change from the current 10 acres to 20 acres. The committee is considering changing this to 15 acres.
•If a natural disaster (fire, tornado, disease) leaves woods unmerchantible, the landowner can be exempt from paying withdrawal taxes.
These changes need to be approved by the Assembly Committee and the full Assembly. Then a companion Senate Bill, SB-543, must be approved by the Senate and ultimately signed by the governor before the Legislature adjourns in April.
Most of the people who testified on AB-700 think it is an improvement from current regulations, though not a perfect fix.
If you own woodland, you should keep an eye on this bill.