Property Tax for Timberland

Heather Hansen, Washington Farm Forestry Association

Budget-preparation-graphic-e1330391122329Is your timberland enrolled as designated forestland or open space timberland for property tax purposes? Have you heard from your County Assessor about disqualifying a portion of your land from one of these programs? Have you purchased land and had difficulty getting it enrolled in one of these programs?

If so, you are not alone and we want to hear your story. We have heard from members across the state about difficulty getting and keeping land enrolled in current use taxation programs. The intent of these programs is to encourage forestry and support all of the functions that timberland provides. Washington Farm Forestry Association is working with the Department of Revenue to ensure the programs are implemented accurately and fairly across the state.

The following counties have merged the open space timberland program into the designated forestland program: Chelan, Clallam, Cowlitz, Ferry, Grays Harbor, Island, Kitsap, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lewis, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Spokane, and Whatcom. In all other counties, the programs remain separate. The programs are similar. Contiguous timberland totaling five acres or more is eligible for these programs.

The more stories we hear from affected landowners, the better we can address concerns. Please contact Heather Hansen at hhansen@wafarmfoestry.com or 360-705-2040.

Key points for landowners

  • If a landowner receives a Notice of Removal from the County Assessor, it must specify why the land is being removed from the program.
  • Preferential tax treatment is granted in part because of the assumption that excise tax will be paid at harvest time. You must plan to harvest; however, there is a great deal of latitude about when, how and how much you may wish to harvest.
  • There is no requirement to open your land to the public.
  • The landowner must fulfill the restocking requirements in the timber management plan submitted with the application. As long as the landowner follows the timber management plan, the land should not be removed from the program. You do not need to hire a forester to write your plan. You can write it yourself or with help from a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Landowner Assistance Forester, your Conservation District or WSU Extension.
  • If you receive a Notice of Removal, contact your County Assessor’s office. Many concerns can be resolved by sharing information. If that does not work, appeal to your County Board of Equalization. There is no cost (except your time). You do not need an attorney. All it takes is a letter explaining why you think your land qualifies for the program. Do pay attention to dates; there is a deadline for appealing.
  • It states on the Notice of Removal that the owner can apply for reclassification as either open space land or agricultural land. In some cases, these other categories may be a better fit.  If the landowner applies for reclassification, no compensating tax is due.
  • If land is voluntarily removed from the program, compensating taxes must be paid.
  • If your application to enroll land in one of the programs is denied, the assessor must allow you to be heard. If issues are not resolved, this denial can also be appealed to the Board of Equalization.

If you have questions or concerns about designated forestland, open space timberland or other open space programs, please let us know. 

What the Law Says 

RCW 84.33.010: It is this state’s policy to encourage forestry so that present and future generations will enjoy the benefits which forest areas provide such as enhancing water supply, minimizing soil erosion, minimizing storm and flood damage, providing habitat for wildlife, providing scenic and recreational spaces, maintaining land areas whose forests contribute to the natural ecological equilibrium, and providing employment and profits to its citizens and raw materials for products needed by everyone.

RCW 84.33.035: “Forest land” means any parcel of land that is five or more acres or multiple parcels of land that total five or more acres that are devoted primarily to growing and harvesting timber. It includes land used for incidental uses that are compatible with the growing and harvesting of timber as long as those incidental uses do not total more than ten percent of the land. Incidental uses may include a gravel pit, a shed or land used to store equipment and any other use that does not interfere with growing and harvesting timber.  It does not include a residential home site.

To be eligible for the program, a landowner must have a timber management plan. This plan may be prepared by a trained forester, or any other person with adequate knowledge of timber management practices.

State law does not specify what must be included in the plan.