Here's a hypothetical question (hopefully). If an ash stand no longer has sufficient density to qualify for the 480a program following ash borer invasion, and if that stand is necessary for having more than 50 acres for the program, what happens? Does the owner incur the tax penalties for removal from the program even if it wasn't voluntary? Anyone who has experience with this and is willing to share, it will be much appreciated.
I don't live in New York State, but researching forest tax laws is a bit of a hobby of mine, so I took the time to look up the 480a program. It appears that density can be measured in one of two ways. The first, is basal area of the stand, which would generally be measured from samples of mature trees (your ash trees), but stocking can also be measured based on trees/acre, which can include seedlings over one foot in height. If the total number of non-ash mature trees and advance regeneration is greater than 500 trees/acre, then it doesn't look like you would have a problem at all.
I don't know the particulars (either of your particular property or the laws in general) well enough to give definite advice, but it sounds like you could encourage seedling growth for the next few years, and then harvest the ash trees once you have enough growth to continue to qualify as forestland over that area.
Here's the document that I read about the 480a program: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/foresttaxlawhandbook.pdf.
Obviously, this is just brainstorming. Maybe someone who has experience with New York property tax law can provide a better answer.
Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it! My understanding is similar to yours. In the particulars of my stand, there are areas with plenty of maple saplings. There are however some sections with little or no ingrowth of saplings. If the ash borer population stays away another ten years, the question will likely be academic for me. The issue is that it draws closer each year and its arrival is probably sooner than later. My stand is almost totally small to medium ash poles, so a harvest is not financially viable. Meantime I am thinning the ash wherever the maple are appearing and planting acorns and walnuts where there are already spaces. Whether my stand is disqualified or not will probably be a close call in terms of staying above 50 acres of eligible acres.If you have any further thoughts, please share. thanks, again.
I can't think of much else you could do that you aren't already. The one thing I might try is to do a formal survey of the regeneration. You say you have plenty of saplings in some parts of the stand, but none in others. The way I understand it, for the purposes of tax assessment, all you would need is for the areas with saplings, and the areas without, to average out to more than 500 stems per acre. Maybe next summer, you can set up a few sample plots, yourself, to see if that would be the case. If your survey comes close to the required amount or exceeds it, you could then hire a forester to do his own survey and sign off on the results. Of course, I am assuming that the tax savings that you are getting through 480a are worth some time and monetary expense, and from what I have read, that can be a false assumption.
I wish you luck with your forest,
Full Disclosure: Anything you have read above is the advice of a high school student who has done a fair bit of reading on forest management and wishes to pursue it as a career, but has no formal education or job experience, and certainly no licensing to justify giving this advice. Your question was certainly an interesting study for me, and hopefully I have been helpful, but take anything I say with that grain of salt.
Hello, Ely: Those "500 stems" are required to be evenly distributed. And that is the issue.
My thanks for your input and my admiration for studying up on this difficult and sometimes legalistic issue. Keep it up!