Agricultural Tax Appraisal Based on Wildlife Managementupdated: February 2014

Property taxes, also known as ad valorem taxes, are assessed and collected on real property at the local level to fund a variety of local governmental functions including public schools, roads, police, fire, and other and emergency services. The Texas Constitution, the Texas Tax Code, the regulations of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts (Comptroller), the Comptroller’s Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land, the Comptroller’s Guidelines for Qualification of Agricultural Land in Wildlife Management Use, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines comprise the body of laws, legal standards, and guidelines used to determine when land qualifies for valuation or assessment for property taxes based on wildlife management use.

Knowing how these legal layers relate to one another is helpful to understanding when land qualifies for taxation as open-spaced land devoted to wildlife management use. The Texas Constitution grants powers to the state and places limitations on how that power can be exercised, including limitations on how open-spaced land may be taxed. The Texas Tax Code contains the statutes enacted by the Texas legislature that implements the state’s property tax system and governs the methods used by appraisal districts is assessing property taxes or agricultural and open-spaced lands. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has been granted authority by the Texas legislature through the Texas Tax Code to adopt additional regulations to govern the assessment and collection of property taxes. The guidelines of the Comptroller and TPWD are incorporated by statute and regulation as part of the standards to determine whether a particular tract of land and the wildlife management practices and activities employed on that tract qualifies the land for assessment for property taxes based on wildlife management use.

The Texas Constitution

In 1966, Texas voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution that changed the way that property taxes are assessed on agricultural land in Texas. Prior to 1966, property taxes on farm, ranch and other agricultural lands were assessed based on market value, the price a willing buyer and willing seller would accept for the sale of the property. The adoption of Article 8, Section 1-d of the Texas Constitution, Assessment of Lands Designated for Agricultural Use, required that agricultural land owned by individuals whose primary occupation and income are based on agriculture may only be assessed for property taxes based upon the land’s productive value, the value of the agricultural products that can be produced from the land. Property taxes are calculated as a percentage of the value of the tract of land. Because a tract of land’s productive value in often lower than its market value, this resulted in a reduction in property taxes for many landowners.

In 1978, Texas voters approved another amendment to the Texas Constitution, Article 8, Section 1-d-1 of the Texas Constitution, Taxation of Certain Open-Spaced Land (Section 1-d-1), for the stated purpose of promoting the preservation of open-spaced lands. Section 1-d-1 expanded the properties that are required to be assessed for property taxes based on productive value to include open-spaced lands devoted to farm and ranch purposes, including those owned by corporations as well as individuals whose primary occupation and income are not derived from agriculture. In addition, Section 1-d-1 authorized but did not require the legislature to assess open-spaced timber lands for property taxes based on productive value.

In 1995, an amendment to Section 1-d-1 was approved by Texas voters that added open-spaced lands devoted to wildlife management purposes to the list of open-spaced properties that are required to be assessed for property taxes based on productive value. There is no “agricultural exemption” or “wildlife exemption” for open-spaced land. These properties are subject to property taxation but based on the land’s productive value rather than market value as required by Section 1-d-1.

The Texas Tax Code

The statutes governing property taxation of Section 1-d-1 open-spaced lands devoted to wildlife management purposes are set forth in Texas Tax Code, Chapter 23, Subchapter D, Appraisal of Agricultural Land. A property can only be assessed based on wildlife management use if at the time the wildlife management began the property was already being appraised as qualified open-spaced land under the Tax Code. TEX. TAX CODE §23.51(7)(A). This means that the property was being appraised as open-spaced land because the land had been devoted for five of the preceding seven years to producing crops, raising livestock, or producing timber, or the land was used as an ecological laboratory by a college or university. See TEX. TAX CODE §§23.51(1).

Under the Texas Tax Code, wildlife management is a qualifying agricultural practice that if done to the required degree of intensity, as defined by the statues, regulations and guidelines, qualifies land to be appraised as open-spaced land based on the land’s productive value rather than its market value as required by Section 1-d-1. TEX. TAX CODE §§23.51(1) and (2). When a landowner elects to convert the primary use of their land from farming or ranching to wildlife management there is no change in the amount of property taxes assessed against the property, only a change in the qualifying agricultural practice, therefore, appraisal based on wildlife management use is revenue neutral.

“Wildlife management” is defined by the Texas Tax Code as actively using the land through at least three of seven wildlife management practices (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts) to propagate a sustaining breeding, migrating, or winter population of indigenous wild animals for human use, including, food medicine, or recreation. TEX. TAX CODE §23.51(7)(A). Land can also qualify for appraisal based on wildlife management use if it is being used to protect a federally listed endangered species under a conservation easement or as part of a qualifying habitat conservation plan. TEX. TAX CODE §23.51(7)(B).

Wildlife Management Use Regulations

In 2001, the Texas legislature amended the Texas Tax Code to require TPWD to develop, with the assistance of the Comptroller, standards for determining whether land qualifies for appraisal as open-spaced land devoted to wildlife management use, and provided that these standards could include such factors as the size of the tract of land, standards for implementation of the seven wildlife management practices (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts), the type of wildlife being managed, the region of the state where the land is located, or other relevant factors. See TEX. TAX CODE §23.521. TPWD and the Comptroller worked together, with the assistance of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and other stakeholders, to adopt standards in 2002 and revise the standards in 2007. The current standards were promulgated as regulations of the Comptroller, and are located in the Texas Administrative Code, Title 34, Chapter 9, Subchapter G, Special Appraisal (Wildlife Management Use Regulations). See 34 TAC §§9.2001-9.2005.

Qualification for Agricultural Appraisal Based on Wildlife Management Use

To qualify for productivity appraisal of open-spaced land based on the agricultural practice of wildlife management the property must: (1) be currently appraised as open-spaced land based on agricultural use; (2) the primary use of the land must be wildlife management; (3) the land must be actively managed through the implementation of a wildlife management plan to sustain a breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wildlife for human use, including food, medicine, or recreation; (4) the landowner must select and implement at least three of the wildlife management practices listed in Texas Tax Code §23.51(7)(A) (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts); (5) the wildlife management practices selected by the landowner must be implemented through wildlife management activities appropriate for the target indigenous wildlife species identified in the wildlife management plan and to the degree of intensity that is consistent with the Comptroller’s Guidelines for Qualification of Agricultural Land in Wildlife Management Use and TPWD’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines for the ecoregion in which the tract of land is located; and (6) the meet the minimum acreage requirements if applicable. 34 TAC §9.2004(b).

The Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines for each ecoregion are provided below and are intended to assist landowners in preparing a wildlife management plan for ad valorem tax purposes.

Wildlife Management Plans and Annual Reports

A wildlife management plan is required and must be provided to the appraisal district in which the tract of the land is located. 34 TAC §9.2003(b). The contents of the wildlife management plan must include: (1) ownership information and a description of the property and its current use; (2) the landowners goals and objectives for the land; (3) the target indigenous wildlife species being managed; (4) the three or more specific wildlife management practices listed in Texas Tax Code §23.51(7)(A) (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts) to be implemented; and (5) the specific wildlife management activities the landowner will use to implement the wildlife management practices for the benefit of the target indigenous wildlife species. 34 TAC §9.2003(c). If the tract of land provides habitat for species that are federally listed or a candidate for listing as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the wildlife management plan must ensure that no wildlife management practices or activities implemented will harm those species. 34 TAC §9.2003(e).

TPWD has a form for wildlife management plans that may be used by landowners. An appraisal district may accept, but may not require, a wildlife management plan that is not the TPWD form if it contains all the required information. 34 TAC §9.2003(a).

An appraisal district may require an annual report showing how the wildlife management plan was implemented. TPWD has a form annual report that may be used by landowners. An appraisal district may accept, but may not require, an annual report that is not the TPWD form if it contains all the required information. 34 TAC §9.2003(g).

Primary Use Standard

To determine if wildlife management is the primary use of a tract of land, the following factors will be considered: (1) whether the land is being actively managed through implementation of a wildlife management plan; (2) whether the landowner gives priority to wildlife management practices and activities over other uses of the land; and (3) whether secondary uses of the land significantly interfere with the wildlife management practices and activities or are detrimental to the target indigenous wildlife being managed.

Acreage Requirements

There is no minimum acreage requirement for open-spaced agricultural appraisal based on wildlife management use unless the tract of land has been reduced in acreage since January 1 of the preceding tax year. If minimum acreage requirements apply, the required minimum acreage is selected by the chief appraiser, with the advice and consent of the Appraisal District Board of Directors, from a range of acreages derived by a formula based on the ecoregion of Texas in which the appraisal district is located. 34 TAC §9.2005(c).

Wildlife Management Property Associations

A wildlife management property association is a group of landowners of contiguous tracts of land (not considering public roads or bodies of water) that have entered into a legally binding agreement to perform all the necessary wildlife management practices and activities on each tract of land to qualify for agricultural property tax appraisal based on wildlife management use. 34 TAC §9.2001(7). Each tract of land must also independently meet all the qualifications for agricultural appraisal based on wildlife management use, including the implementation on each tract three or more specific wildlife management practices listed in Texas Tax Code §23.51(7)(A) (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts), with the exception that the minimum acreage requirements, if applicable, are slightly lower for land in a wildlife management property association. See 34 TAC §9.2005(d).

A wildlife property association may file a single wildlife management plan provided the required information is included for every tract of land in the association and the plan is signed by all landowners or their agents. 34 TAC §9.2003(f). A wildlife property association may also file a single annual report provided the required information is included for every tract of land in the association and the plan is signed by all landowners or their agents. 34 TAC §9.2003(g).

Degree of Intensity Standard

For open-spaced land to qualify for productivity appraisal the agricultural use of the land must be done to the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area. TEX. TAX CODE §§23.51(1). Because wildlife management is an agricultural practice under the Texas Tax Code the degree of intensity requirement is applicable to wildlife management. See TEX. TAX CODE §§23.51(2). The standard for the degree of intensity required is set by the Wildlife Management Use regulations as the TPWD’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines. This series of publications for each ecoregion of Texas describes the various wildlife management activities that that are appropriate to implement the wildlife management practices listed in Texas Tax Code §23.51(7)(A) (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts) for the indigenous wildlife and wildlife habitat in that ecoregion. See 34 TAC §§9.2001(b)(3) and 9.2004(b)(4).


Contact Agricultural Tax Appraisal Based on Wildlife Management


Contact Agricultural Tax Appraisal Based on Wildlife Management

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife Division
Private Lands and Habitat Program
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, Texas  78744
Phone: (512) 389-4800
Toll Free: (800) 792-1112


 

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