Guidelines for Qualification of Agricultural Land in
Wildlife Management Use
Part I: Qualifying Land for Wildlife Management Use
Wildlife Management Use Requirements
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Land must be qualified for Chapter 23, Subchapter D (1-d-1) Agricultural Appraisal
The first requirement for wildlife management use qualification is purely technical and is not related to the land's actual use to manage wildlife. The law restricts the land that may qualify for wildlife management use. To qualify for agricultural appraisal under the wildlife management use, land must be qualified for agricultural appraisal under Tax Code Chapter 23, Subchapter D, (also called 1-d-1 or open space agricultural appraisal), at the time the owner changes use to wildlife management use.
In other words, the land must have been qualified and appraised as agricultural land during the year before the year the owner changes to the wildlife management use. For example, an owner who wishes to qualify for wildlife management use in 2002 must be able to show the land was qualified for and appraised as agricultural land in 2001.
Land qualified for timber appraisal is not eligible to qualify for wildlife management use. Timber land is qualified under Tax Code Chapter 23, Subchapter E. The law limits wildlife management use to land qualified under Subchapter D of Chapter 23. Similarly, land qualified for agricultural appraisal under Article VIII, Section 1-d of the Texas Constitution and Chapter 23, Subchapter C Tax Code (also called 1-d agricultural appraisal) is not ineligible for wildlife management use.
Land must be used to generate a sustaining breeding, migrating or wintering population of indigenous wild animals.
The second requirement for qualified wildlife management use is that the land must be used to propagate a sustaining breeding, migrating or wintering population of indigenous wild animals.
An indigenous animal is a native animal that originated in or naturally migrates through an area and that is living naturally in that area, as opposed to an exotic animal or one that has been introduced to the area. In this context, an indigenous animal is one that is native to Texas. (Contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to determine if an animal species is considered indigenous.)
Land may qualify for wildlife management use if it is instrumental in supporting a sustaining breeding, migrating or wintering population. A group of animals need not permanently live on the land, provided they regularly migrate across it or seasonally live there.
A sustaining breeding population is a group of indigenous wild animals that is large enough to live independently over several generations. This definition implies that the population will not die out because it produces enough animals to continue as a viable group. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department may be able to provide information to help determine the number of animals of a particular species that must group together to sustain the population.
A migrating population of indigenous wild animals is a group of animals moving between seasonal ranges. A wintering population of indigenous wild animals is a group of animals living on its winter range.
The indigenous wildlife population must be produced for human use.
The law requires an owner to propagate the wildlife population for human use. Human use may include food, medicine or recreation. Land will not qualify unless the owner propagates the population of wild animals for a human purpose.
The use of animals for food and medicine is self-explanatory. These uses result in a product and require active participation. A recreational use may be either active or passive and may include any type of use for pleasure or sport. Bird watching, hiking, hunting, photography and other non-passive recreational or hobby-type activities are qualifying recreational uses. The owner's passive enjoyment in owning the land and managing it for wildlife also is a qualifying recreational use.
Is the land used for three or more of the following activities?
Under the law, an owner must perform at least three of seven listed wildlife management activities on the land. An owner may qualify by doing more than three, but may not engage in fewer than three of the activities. These activities are explained in detail in Part Two of this booklet, but a short summary of each management activity listed in the law appears below.
- Habitat Control (Habitat Management). A wild animal's habitat is its surroundings as a whole, including plants, ground cover, shelter and other animals on the land. Habitat control — or habitat management — means actively using the land to create or promote an environment that is beneficial to wildlife.
- Erosion Control. Any active practice that attempts to reduce or keep soil erosion to a minimum for the benefit of wildlife is erosion control.
- Predator Control (Predator Management). This term means practices intended to manage the population of predators to benefit the owner's target wildlife population. Predator control is usually not necessary unless the number of predators is harmful to the desired wildlife population.
- Providing Supplemental Supplies of Water. Natural water exists in all wildlife environments. Supplemental water is provided when the owner actively provides water in addition to the natural sources.
- Providing Supplemental Supplies of Food. Most wildlife environments have some natural food. An owner supplies supplemental food by providing food or nutrition in addition to the level naturally produced on the land.
- Providing Shelter. This term means actively creating or maintaining vegetation or artificial structures that provide shelter from the weather, nesting and breeding sites or "escape cover" from enemies.
- Making Census Counts to Determine Population. Census counts are periodic surveys and inventories to determine the number, composition or other relevant information about a wildlife population to measure if the current wildlife management practices are serving the targeted species.
Agricultural Use Requirements
Chief appraisers should remember that an owner's wildlife management use must meet all the requirements to qualify for agricultural use, defined in Tax Code Section 23.51(1). Below is a brief discussion of the principal issues involved in agricultural use of land used for wildlife management. For a thorough discussion of these components, please refer to the Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land.
The law requires agriculture to be the primary use of the land. Wildlife management is an agricultural use under the law. The primary use requirement is particularly important for land used to manage wildlife. For example, land devoted to wildlife management can be used as a residence for the owner, but the land will not qualify if residential use — and not wildlife management — is the land's primary use.
A chief appraiser must gather and consider all the relevant facts to determine if the land is primarily used to manage wildlife. Some important questions are listed below.
- Is the owner implementing an active, written, wildlife management plan that shows he or she is engaging in activities necessary to preserve a sustaining breeding population on the land? An owner's management plan is required and must be completed on a form supplied by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for each tract of land for which qualification is sought. A plan is clear evidence of the owner's use of the land primarily for wildlife management. A good plan will usually list wildlife management activities with the appropriate seasons and/or sequence of events.
- Do the owner's management practices emphasize managing the population to ensure its continued existence over another use of the land? For example, does the owner refrain from allowing visitors on the land in years when the habitat is sensitive?
- Has the owner engaged in the wildlife management practices necessary to sustain and encourage the population? In some cases, an owner must control predators and supply water when water is not adequate, supply shelter and food when natural food production is not adequate and establish vegetation to control erosion. In other cases, less active management may maintain and encourage the growth of wildlife.
- Are there improvements — appropriate fencing, for example — necessary to control or sustain the wildlife population?
An owner may use land for purposes that are secondary to the primary use — wildlife management — if the secondary use is compatible with the primary use. For example, an owner may engage in wildlife management and also operate a business in which bird watchers stay on the land overnight and watch for birds during the day (known as a bird and breakfast operation). This activity is secondary to the primary activity of managing the wildlife, but it is not incompatible with the wildlife management use. General principles of primary and secondary use are discussed in the Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land.
Degree of Intensity for Wildlife Management Use
The degree-of-intensity standard for wildlife management land is determined in the same way as other agricultural uses. Wildlife management land usually requires management practices that encourage long-term maintenance of the population.
A chief appraiser may ask questions such as whether fencing is typical in the area for managing the target wildlife population, and what is the typical population size? In addition, the chief appraiser should ask how many of the following activities are typical in the area (or typical for the area during some parts of the year): habitat management; predator management; erosion control; providing supplemental supplies of food or water; providing shelter; and engaging in census counts.
Because wildlife management activities are elements of the degree of intensity determination, an owner must be engaging in three of seven activities to the degree of intensity typical for the area. General principles of the degree of intensity test are discussed in the Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has developed regional wildlife management plans detailing specific management activities appropriate for each ecological area.
Historical Use Requirement
Land must have qualified for 1-d-1 agricultural use and been appraised as 1-d-1 agricultural use in the year before the owner changes its use to wildlife management. Consequently, the time-period test to determine if the land has been used for agriculture for five of the preceding seven years usually is not necessary.
Determining Appraised Values
The wildlife management use is a revenue-neutral use of land. The owner who switches from another agricultural use to wildlife management use must pay the same amount of property taxes that would have been paid if the land had remained in its former agricultural use.
Land qualified for wildlife management should be placed in a wildlife management category, but should have the same appraised value as before its conversion to wildlife management use. For example, if the land was in Irrigated Cropland I before the owner switched its use to wildlife management, the land should be placed in the wildlife management category, but will be appraised at the Irrigated Cropland I value.
If that land use category's value subsequently changes in the county, the new category values would apply to those tracts under wildlife management use in that category.
Notifying the Chief Appraiser of Change to Wildlife Management Use
The law does not require an annual application for agricultural use once the land has qualified. Because only 1-d-1 qualified land may qualify for wildlife management use, an owner who changes to this use need not reapply for agricultural appraisal. The law, however, does require an owner who changes the category of agricultural use to notify the chief appraiser of the change.
When an owner changes agricultural uses to wildlife management, the owner must notify the chief appraiser in writing before May 1 of the year in which the owner wants to qualify under wildlife management use. The chief appraiser then will determine if the land qualifies for wildlife management use. Likewise, an owner must notify the chief appraiser if land is switched from wildlife management use to another qualifying agricultural use.
Owners should contact their county appraisal districts about notification requirements before changing small portions of their land from one qualified agricultural use to another. For example, if an owner converts a part of a 1,000-acre farm to wildlife management use by creating a pond for wildlife, the owner should ask about the appraisal district's need for notification and documentation requirements.