New England Forestry Consultants, Inc.

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For some states, the past few years have seen significant changes or attempted changes to current use programs and/or harvesting regulations while other states have seen very little activity.  Vermont appears to be pretty active while Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York have been pretty quiet.

In Vermont, a number of bills have been presented before the State Legislature over the last few years that have the potential to have an extensive influence on timber harvesting.  H. 329 passed the Vermont House in 2012 and contained a significant change to the UVA land use change tax.  The argument for this change was to discourage “parking” of properties in the program prior to developing the property.

The Senate chose to conduct “listening sessions” throughout the state prior to acting on the bill.  After the conclusion of the listening sessions, the Senate has produced its own version of H. 329 which is significantly different than the house version.  The Senate version dropped the land use change tax alteration; however, it proposes a savings cap or limit on a per acre basis along with a few other changes.  NEFCo foresters John McClain and Tony Lamberton have both spoken before Senate members about H. 329.  At the writing of this article, the Senate has not voted on its version of the bill, and if passed as written, the bill would need to be sorted out in a conference committee between the House and Senate.

House Bill 587 has been introduced which seeks to repeal the law that gives any town the right to declare a right of way across one person’s land to allow another person to remove wood from his/her property.  The town has discretion on whether to exercise the right.  It appears that the bill may die in committee on the basis of testimony.

Senate Bill 100, the forest fragmentation bill, was introduced and has the potential to create additional regulatory burdens on forestland through ACT 250, regional planning, and municipal planning.   It would appear that after taking testimony, the bill will probably not get out of committee.

In 2013, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 24, requiring the Commissioner of Forest, Parks, and Recreation to develop voluntary harvesting guidelines that may be used by private landowners to help ensure long-term forest health and sustainability.  The process has started with the formation of an Advisory Committee.  The Department and Advisory Committee will offer multiple opportunities for public comment.  “Of all the things done by the legislature over the past few years, I believe Act 24 is the one for which I have the most concern”, stated NEFCo President Tony Lamberton.  “I would not be surprised to see a bill in the near future that would make these “voluntary” guidelines mandatory on lands in the UVA program and then eventually for all lands in Vermont.”

New Hampshire’s current use program has basically remained unchanged over the past few years.  New  York’s current use program (480-a) has unfortunately also remained unchanged.  The New York program is one of the most onerous programs in the nation; therefore, there is limited appeal to enroll in the program.

In Maine, new shoreline regulation measures overseen in many towns by the Maine Forest Service tend to place additional costs on the operational planning of timber harvests.  Additionally, the Maine Forest Service is taking a closer look at selected woodland properties in the Maine Tree Growth Tax program to ensure that these properties are being managed in accordance with the 10-year forest management and harvest plans written specifically for them.

Just about every year, bills are presented in state legislatures that have the potential to affect a landowner’s ability to manage their land.  While some may be appropriate, many are not and we encourage all of our clients to be vigilant concerning these various bills.  NEFCo is continually at the forefront providing information, counsel, and opinions to legislators; however, landowner action is also necessary.

We encourage all of our clients to join the respective landowner organizations in the appropriate state in order to keep abreast of various threats and to have a voice in the decision making process.  Please contact your NEFCo forester for information concerning the various landowner organizations.