Programs aim to benefit private landowners

ESCANABA – The Delta Conservation District has announced a new partnership with the Schoolcraft Conservation District, and how private landowners can be involved in a proposed new tax incentive program and Michigan’s certified forest program.

The Delta and Schoolcraft Conservation districts will begin a Forest Land Assistance Program Jan. 2, according to Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson.

The partnership is geared to help non-industrial private landowners in both counties by having experts look over their property and offer technical expertise regarding forestry, wildlife, natural resource and environmental issues free of charge.

Experts will cover the individual’s entire property, no matter how many acres they own. The program will be ongoing

“There used to be quite a few of these through the districts,” Mattson said of the program. “They’ve run off and on for 25 years. This one I think is unique because it’s really supposed to make an emphasis on getting projects done or getting programs done. In other words, getting timber sales out, and it all goes to the private sector.”

The conservation district will refer the work to members of the private sector such as consultants, loggers, contractors, and surveyors; the work is not completed by the conservation districts themselves.

“Anything to get the job done we’ll be referring out to that private sector real strong,” said Mattson.

Mattson also spoke about a proposed change to the state’s Qualified Forest Property program, which encourages private landowners to manage their land for forestry by providing a property tax reduction, as an incentive.

According to Mattson, a set of bills referred to as the “Forestry Package of Bills” have been introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart) to change this program.

Under the new QF program, private landowners could get 16 mills off their tax bill if they manage their own forest lands. The new program is different as it allows for private landowners to have a structure on their property, whereas the current program does not. It also offers a lower recapture fee for those opting out of the program than the current one does, said Mattson.

“The other opportunity that’s involved with that is … the Commercial Forest Act, anybody who’s in that will have the option to get out of that and into the new (QF) program,” explained Mattson.

According to the DNR website, the Commercial Forest program provides a property tax reduction to private landowners as an incentive to retain and manage forest land for long-term timber production. Landowners under this program pay a reduced property tax.

Mattson noted one reason people may want to switch from the CF program to the proposed new QF program is due to a ruling by the Michigan attorney general that deer blinds are considered “dwellings” under the Commercial Forest program, which does not allow for dwellings on property.

Mattson said this ruling affects smaller landowners who became involved in this program for tax break purposes.

He also highlighted Michigan’s forest certification program, which currently has two processes through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Typically, DNR and state lands, federal lands, and lands of larger property owners are the only ones with certified forests, said Mattson.

“What this sort of means is they’re sort of … being managed as environmentally-friendly forests,” he explained, of the certification. This allows big companies who purchase wood or chips for their products to say their products came from certified lands or environmentally friendly forests.

According to Mattson, private landowners are able to have SFI-certified forests, even though not many currently have their forest lands certified.

Having a forest certification does not mean a private landowner will necessarily get more money, but it gives them one extra opportunity to sell timber from their certified property that other private landowners may not have.

Mattson said in order for private landowners to be involved in either the new proposed QF tax incentive program or the forest certification program, a forest management plan is required. Landowners can pay for the plan themselves, but there is currently another option available.

“Right now, there’s an opportunity to apply for funds to help a landowner pay to have that management plan written,” said Mattson. “So conservation districts can help them right through that whole process.”

The deadline for applying for available funds is Jan. 11, to allow for necessary paper work to be completed.

Plans must include certain things, so Mattson said those interested in seeking funds for getting a management plan written or looking for guidance in the process should contact the conservation district at (906) 553-7700.