Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Wildlife Conservation Lands Program Provides Landowner Benefits

This year, the State of North Carolina provides new property tax benefits for landowners with rare species and rare habitats on their lands. This new initiative, called the Wildlife Conservation Lands Program, can provide a win-win situation for landowners and wildlife.

Lands with rare wildlife or rare wildlife habitat can now be assessed at a much lower value, reducing property taxes significantly.  Properties are typically assessed at market value, meaning values are determined based on highest and best use.  Often this means your land is assessed for residential or commercial development, meaning a valuation of thousands of dollars per acre. 

Wildlife conservation lands, on the other hand, are assessed at the same rate as forest lands, which can be assessed perhaps 75% less than residential or commercial lands.  The difference in value provides significant savings for landowners who qualify.

Do you qualify?

You might own tracts of land containing a stream or creek or river you just might.  These are considered priority habitats for wildlife and provide clean water for wildlife and people, if kept pristine.  Buffer zones around these riparian areas will help maintain or enhance the waters of North Carolina and are one step towards qualifying your land for reduced property taxes.

Other rare habitats that qualify include Longleaf pine forests, early-successional habitats, bat caves, small wetlands, and rock outcrops.  These habitats and buffers around them must at a minimum be twenty contiguous acres to qualify.  If you own 140 acres, for example, 50 acres may be streamside buffer zones or rock outcrops.  Helia Environmental can help you map these habitats using GIS and GPS and create buffer zones that meet your needs and the needs of wildlife.

In addition to rare habitats, rare wildlife species living on your land can also qualify you for the program.  Rare species must be located and verified as living on the land.  Dozens of rare species are imperiled in North Carolina and you could help them to recover, while benefiting financially with reduced property taxes.

In order to receive this tax benefit, your county assessors must approve the application.  Part of this application is a Wildlife Habitat Conservation Agreement approved by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  This agreement includes steps to protect the habitat or wildlife species.  For riparian zones, this can mean letting the forest grow naturally.  For longleaf pine forests, this can mean prescribed burning or planting.  Funding is available through various state and national programs for active management of wildlife habitat.  A good example of this is Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

Once approved, your lands will be reassessed by your county government, wildlife will benefit from the program, and you will be rewarded with lower property taxes.  This is a one-time application that can provide these benefits for your lifetime and beyond.

Contact Helia Environmental to see if your lands fit with the Wildlife Conservation Lands Program.  We're happy to assist you and facilitate the process!