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Changes Ahead for Wisconsin's Managed Forest Law Program

Changes Ahead for Wisconsin's Managed Forest Law Program

Special legislative committee makes recommendations for 25-year-old program.

Proposed changes to Wisconsin's Managed Forest Law are moving to the legislature for consideration and possible enactment based on recommendations from a special committee charged with reviewing and increasing participation in the program.

The committee, composed of legislators and public members who represent key interests or have relevant expertise, proposed ways to support long-term sustainability of privately owned woodlands.  

"Some of the committee's proposed changes will take the Managed Forest Law program in new directions," says committee member Mark Rickenbach, a UW-Extension forest policy and management specialist and associate professor in the UW-Madison Dept. of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. "The question we asked ourselves was ‘How can we make this program good for the next 25 years?’"

The Managed Forest Law is a property tax incentive program for state landowners. Three million acres are currently enrolled in the program (19 percent of the state’s total forestland), which includes more than 44,000 parcels.

Under the current system, participating landowners agree to follow a Dept. of Natural Resources approved management plan in exchange for reduced annual property taxes. Landowners also pay a 5 percent yield tax on commercial timber harvested on their properties. Participants enroll in the program for either 25 or 50 years.

If enacted, the special committee's recommendations will affect a number of the MFL's longstanding elements and have potential fiscal impacts on towns and counties.

Here are the proposed changes:

--Leasing. Landowners in the program would be permitted to lease their lands for activities such as hiking, fishing, skiing, hunting, horseback riding and sightseeing.

--Taxes. Land in the MFL program may be enrolled as "open" or "closed" to public access. Currently, open land fees are $1.67 per acre and $8.34 per acre for closed lands. The proposed change would recalculate the closed fee for newly enrolled lands. This change would allow towns and counties to keep the closed acre payments, which currently go to the DNR. 

--Board of Review. Landowners who are unhappy with a DNR decision regarding their forestry practices would have an additional option for review via a new "Managed Forest Review Board."

--Annual allowable cuts. Under this proposal, the DNR would have to calculate how much timber large landowners (mainly those owning more 1,000 acres) could harvest in a given year.

--Creation of MFL groups. Woodland owners in the MFL could enter as a group. Group members would be given more flexibility in timing and coordinating forestry practices with other group members.

--Forest Enterprise Areas. Towns or counties with designated Forest Enterprise Areas would be eligible to receive payments totaling $1.00 and $0.50 for each MFL acre in the area. The payments would come from the forestry account of the conservation fund.

--Adding acreage to an enrollment. Landowners would be allowed to add less than ten acres without having to essentially re-enter the original area and the addition as a new enrollment.

Two of the committee’s recommendations could affect local government finances. First, changes in how closed acre fees are determined might increase revenue for towns and counties. And second, Forest Enterprise Areas would create new revenue options for forestry-related activities.

"The special committee has laid a solid foundation for change," says Rickenbach. "However, the legislative process will yield additional changes. The more folks who get involved, the more the bill can be improved."

Source: University of Wisconsin-Extension

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