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Empire Forests for the Future Initiative

Proposed New Program For Private Forests In Governor's Budget

The Empire Forests for the Future Initiative is a comprehensive forestry initiative aimed at assisting private forest owners and others manage their forests for societal benefits such as climate mitigation, wildlife habitat and forest products. The initiative is included as a bill in the 2019 Executive Budget (PDF 5.7 MB).

Summary

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Landowners can benefit from the advice of a forester.

The Empire Forests for the Future Initiative is a multi-part program whose goal is to protect and enhance the health, quality and sustainability of trees and forests across New York State. The proposal would reform the current forest tax law to increase sustainable production from the forest products industry; adopt voluntary, sustainable harvesting guidelines; implement a timber harvesting notification system; create a wood product procurement preference; and establish cost share forest management practice and community forest grant programs. Listed below are the components of the Empire Forests for the Future Initiative:

  • Reform the 480-a Forest Tax Law program to increase sustainable production of quality timber products from private lands for forest product industry in NY while preserving open space. A more detailed description is below;
  • Reimburse municipalities for the tax shifts associated with the tax exemption proposed in the legislation and the existing law;
  • Establish a simple Timber Harvest Notification system in the Right to Practice Forestry law;
  • Provide a state procurement preference for New York grown and manufactured wood products similar to the preference for food and dairy products;
  • Establish Empire Forest Incentive Program (EFIP) based on the federal EQIP program; this cost share grant program would fund good forestry practices to improve New York's forest resources. A new line in the EPF was added for $500,000; and
  • Establish a Community Forest Grant Program based on the federal community forest program; these grants would provide financial assistance to local governments and qualified nonprofit entities to establish and enhance community forests that include active timber management and recreational access. This program would require a 50% match. A new line in EPF was added for $500,000.

Breakdown of Tax Law Legislative Changes

Current 480

  • No changes to current program
  • Current enrollees may transfer into 480-a until March 1, 2019, or 480-b at any time

Current 480-a

  • Any owner of forest land may apply whether he or she is an individual, private corporation, industry, partnership, association, firm, trust, estate or any other private legal entity, excluding government entities.
  • Any tract of forest land is eligible if it consists of at least 50 contiguous acres of qualifying forest land
  • 80% tax reduction remains unchanged
  • Stumpage tax will be eliminated immediately; current tax is 6%
  • New enrollment will end on March 1, 2019; existing enrollees can continue indefinitely
    • Family transfers/sale of land will be allowed to remain under 480-a
    • Option to get out of 480-a penalty free from March 1, 2019, until February 28, 2020, or transfer to 480-b penalty free at any time
  • Penalties decrease based on the number of years the land has been enrolled in the program; current penalties are 2.5 times the back taxes saved for the previous ten years
  • 10 year rolling commitment remains unchanged

New 480-b (Forest Certification Entry)

  • Any owner of forest land may apply whether he or she is an individual, private corporation, industry, partnership, association, firm, trust, estate or any other private legal entity, excluding government entities.
  • Any tract of forest land is eligible if it consists of at least 25 contiguous acres of qualifying forest land
  • Forest certification programs must be DEC approved
  • 70% tax reduction
  • No stumpage tax
  • Penalties decrease based on the number of years the land has been enrolled in the program, same as 480-a changes
  • 10 year rolling commitment

New 480-b (Forest Practice Entry)

  • Any owner of forest land may apply whether he or she is an individual, private corporation, industry, partnership, association, firm, trust, estate or any other private legal entity, excluding government entities.
  • Any tract of forest land is eligible if it consists of at least 25 contiguous acres of qualifying forest land, with at least 50% of total acreage being forest land; this includes open space component
  • Landowner must complete one or more of the qualifying forest management practices on combined total of at least 10 acres of land to get into the program:
    • Commercial timber harvest
    • Precommercial forest stand improvement
    • Invasive or competing vegetation control
    • Tree planting
    • Riparian buffer establishment or enhancement
  • 40% tax reduction
  • No stumpage tax
  • Penalties decrease based on the number of years the land has been enrolled in the program, same as 480-a changes
  • 10 year rolling commitment