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NYFOA Updates Progress on 480a Regulatory Reform Efforts

Membership Has It's Privilege

By Greg Lessord

NO, we are not announcing a rewards program.....OR.....are we?

As this article is being penned in mid March 2019, the NYSDEC is in the midst of holding hearings throughout the state and via webinar to put forth information and receive public comment concerning the forestry tax law, RPTL part 480a regulatory reform.

While this tax law is utilized by many very large commercial forest land owners and timber investment management organizations ( TIMO's ) to receive an 80% reduction in property taxes, private woodland owners who have 50 or more contiguous acres and are willing to commit them to sustainable harvesting practices through a written forest management plan can also benefit from the 80% tax reduction.

With very little advance notice of the DEC's public stakeholder hearing schedule, NYFOA president Art Wagner was able to get the word out to the membership along with the NYFOA position statement regarding 480a regulatory reform. I along with WFL vice-chair Dale Schaefer attended the first meeting held February 26th at Finger Lakes Community College ( FLCC ) and both signed up to speak to a full house as did nearly 20 other concerned landowners. I presented the official NYFOA position statement which supports the DEC's effort along with a list of potential revisions. They include simplifying the application process, modifying and streamlining the required work schedules, computerizing 480a documentation requirements, revising the 480a handbook and definitions to simplify and ensure consistent interpretation of regulations all across the state; and finally to allow for forest regeneration, young forest initiatives and wildlife habitat improvements to fully participate within the 480a program. Hopefully, the end result should increase 480a participation, decrease landowner burdens, decrease DEC administrative efforts and streamline processes.

NYFOA would also like to see the 50 acre minimum reduced to 25 acres in an effort to combat the ever increasing threat to subdivide land or highgrade those forests because of New York state's over the top tax burden. However this requires legislative action and will not be part of DEC's immediate (regulatory) focus. To date, NYFOA's state board has ensured that we have representation at every DEC stakeholder meeting across the state to insure our voice is heard regarding 480a.

Why are we doing this and why should you care? Because the bulk of forest land in this state is owned by private persons like you and I who individually often have little to no advance knowledge of bills or regulations that have a dramatic effect on our ability to own, protect, work in, enjoy, retain, pass down or leave a lasting legacy. With so much time and effort being spent by our chapters keeping all of us informed in areas of invasive species management, wildlife habitat, vernal pools, chainsaw safety, timber stand improvement, maple sugaring, tree and shrub planting, how to seminars, woodswalks - you get the picture - and probably the main reasons you joined or at least are familiar with NYFOA. All more than worth the price of membership on it's own.

What garners little press and is often overlooked or not realized is the behind the scenes advocacy occurring on a daily basis by an all volunteer organization (with the exception of two paid, part time employees). In an effort to inform and educate legislators and a broader audience interested in forest health, we have aligned ourselves with other organizations who share many common issues and goals. Among them the Quality Deer Management Association ( QDMA ), The Nature Conservancy ( TNC ), the Audubon Society, and others . NYFOA also works closely with professional organizations such as Society of American Foresters (SAF ) and the Empire State Forest Products Association ( ESFPA ). We have developed excellent relations with applied forestry professionals at Cornell University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, and Paul Smith's College.

John Bartow Jr. the executive director of ESFPA has been a good friend to NYFOA and has generously shared his deep understanding of legislation being considered in Albany that could have a direct effect on our members (e.g. 480a regulations contemplated, clear cutting regulations, timber harvest pre-notification, proposed funding for private forest owners to receive state cost sharing benefits to implement invasive control, timber stand improvement, deer management etc.) As of this writing some of the bills ESFPA has on the radar include:

  • A954 / S830: would provide a tax credit for thirty percent of the cost of wood pellets used for residential heating.
  • A2296 /S1939: would establish a forestry stewardship and habitat conservation credit for personal income and business franchise taxes for landowners in New York state. Over 100,000 private forest owners and 7 million acres of privately owned forests could potentially take advantage of such a credit.
  • A3632 / S920: to define integrated pest management ( IPM ) as relating to pest management in woods, fields, vineyards and orchards using tool options available of biological, cultural, physical and chemical means.
  • A2405 / S1213: to encourage owners of land and water areas to permit public recreation if they would not be subject to liability for doing so.
  • A1625-A / S2026-A: to add 1420 acres to the forest preserve. Over 200 in the Catskills and over 1200 in the Adirondacks.
  • S447- no same as in assembly: dealing with temporary skidder trails and machinery using current best management practices ( BMP's ) when selectively harvesting within wetland areas.
  • A820 / S985: deals with allowable clear-cut activities on certain lands subject to a conservation easement purchased by the state. It would forbid clear cutting on such lands without a forest management plan approved by the DEC. It would increase jurisdiction of the Adirondack Park Agency over clear cutting.
  • At least 5 bills ( none with a same as ) dealing with glyphosate ( Round Up, etc. ) from limiting its use to an outright ban.
  • A2469 ( no same as ): deals with definition and scope of invasive species and relationship to causing environmental harm or harm to human health.

Periodically several board members travel to meet with legislators and / or their staffers directly to discuss hot button issues. Often these people have no direct contact with lands and forests. NYFOA's director of organizational development Mike Zagata has taken a NYS Senate staffer on a tour of a sawmill and a lengthy walk in the woods in order to explain NYFOA's main agenda points. Such interactions help immensely to broaden the understanding of our needs and concerns and those of the forest itself . NYFOA's Restore New York Woodlands ( RNYW ) initiative, spearheaded by Jerry Michael, is currently partnered with a dozen other organizations who collectively are working with NYSDEC to address the lack of forest regeneration. RNYW is the centerpiece of NYFOA's agenda crafted to address the main reasons why NYS forestland is experiencing a severe difficulty in natural regeneration. The key reasons for this include interfering vegetation/invasives, the need for timber stand improvement, and the negative impacts of excessive deer browse. Quality Deer Management Association is one of our partners and is on board with this hot button topic.

Other key areas of concern are the Young Forest Initiative and creation of early successional habitat to bolster song bird, grouse, rabbit, pollinator and many other populations that diminish greatly or become non-existent in the mature forest structure. The list here is by no means complete and new challenges continually manifest themselves.

So if you're not a member, won't you please join us? And if you already are, THANK YOU! And new this year is the Life Member option.

America's Forests: providing clean air, pure waters, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, building products, recreation, wildlife habitat, jobs and so much more to everyone. Please help us to manage them wisely for generations to come.

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