After the first year of owning our property the taxes doubled. I contacted the Assessor’s office to see why and found out that when the larger parcel was split, our 24 acres became classified as residential. Mind you, there is no residence on this land [yet] and the property had previously been classified as agricultural.
I asked why the taxes doubled and was told because now that it is a smaller parcel it is a more marketable size and therefore there are more comparable parcels to measure it against, so our taxes were increased to match what similar “residential” parcels are rated at. Now that doesn’t seem fair, does it?
I asked about getting the Ag classification and the assessor was kind enough to advise me that it would be easier and a better tax rate if we applied for the timber classification on the 13.5 acres of our parcel that is wooded. She said filing for the Ag classification was more complicated and you have to continually show a certain amount of gross income per acre. Well, at least that was helpful.
At about the same time we attended a workshop on mushroom cultivation sponsored by our local land grant university extension program (WSU) and hosted by a small farm nearby. In addition to learning how to cultivate mushrooms from the farmer, the WSU rep talked to us about using your woods for wildcrafting as another value-add to farming. Wildcrafting in this instance was about using your woods to grow mushrooms, host wildcrafting workshops where participants would gather wild edibles and medicinal herbs, or make crafts from forest products and by-products like wreaths and baskets.
Interesting to note that the farmer (who had the “appearance” of being a little on the “hippie” side – not a criticism by any means – just providing a visual) was cultivating his mushrooms in plastic bags in highly managed and sanitized re-purposed shipping containers – not in the woods on logs. In contrast, the WSU forestry guy (picture a 60-something university professor type) was promoting going out into the woods and communing with nature. The juxtaposition was priceless and just goes to show you can’t (and shouldn’t) judge a book by it’s cover.
We chatted with the WSU guy at the break about our property and he offered to come out and do a walk-about with us to discuss forest management practices, wildcrafting/value-add ideas, etc…. He works in the Forestry department at WSU Extension and they help local landowners develop Forest Stewardship Plans, a much more intensive plan than the Forest Management Plan the assessors office requires for the tax classification change.
Well, as with most things, time slipped through our fingers with the barn building and earthworks projects this past fall/winter, so when I stumbled upon the Timber Tax Classification application the assessor sent me last summer I cringed. You have to file the application along with your FMP by Dec 31 to qualify for the tax benefit for the following year – so this would not go into effect (assuming we filed on time and qualified) until 2015. If we missed this deadline, we would be looking at waiting until 2016. Ding dang it – another opportunity lost… or was it?
I emailed Mr. WSU guy mid-November just in case he was available but it took us until mid-December before we could find a mutually agreeable time to meet up. He came out and spent a good 3-4 hours walking the property and discussing the status of our current timber stand, ideas for improving it, as well as tips on thinning, harvesting and replanting it. We also ran some of our ideas past him for value-add products and related ventures and he shared some additional ideas as well. It was a great meeting and well worth it even if we weren’t able to get our application in on time to qualify for the tax break in 2015. And I still pinch myself as it didn’t cost us a penny. Thank you local land grant university!!
Now I have to take this opportunity to remind myself that even though this entire farm venture can be incredibly stressful, financially draining and time-consuming – we have met more of the nicest and most generous people since we started down this path than we have in our entire lives. Not to say we haven’t known nice and generous people in our “other life” – but seriously – everyone we’ve met in connection with the farm has been over the top genuine, friendly and generous with their time, their tools and their knowledge. Well, there is one exception – we’ve met one nasty fellow and unfortunately he will be one of our neighbors, but maybe he’ll mellow by the time we live there full time. Anyhow, Mr. WSU guy who was going to be on vacation until the end of the year said he’d work with us on getting our tax app and FMP filed on time and not to worry that he was on vacation. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? Pinch me again.
We researched forest management plans and poured through the info Mr. WSU guy shared with us. We emailed a couple of drafts back and forth with him (he was happy with what we had done) and filed it in person at the Assessor’s office on Dec 30 (right after we dug that second hugel bed). Whew! Just in the nick of time. Fingers crossed the inspector that will come out to our property in the next month or so will be able to make sense of what we filed – I can tell you it is not a standard FMP as we have no intention of ever clear-cutting our woods.
Our woods are mostly 20 – 30 year old Red Alder and Douglas Fir with some Bitter Cherry and a mix of other native trees. For the FMP, we divided it into 9 tracts (probably way more than a typical timber property would and we are only 13.5 acres!). The FMP requires you to list and describe the current timber species in each tract, provide somewhat detailed plans (dates, methods, etc), for harvesting, site preparation and replanting each tract. In a nutshell, we will be thinning to improve the health of the timber stands, selectively harvesting over time, and replanting with trees that target the specialty hardwood market (handmade furniture, woodworkers, etc) as well as marketing non-timber products (i.e. mushrooms, chair bodgering workshops, wildcrafting workshops, and so on) and maintaining a healthy eco-system to support native plant species and wildlife. We plan to take WSU’s Forest Stewardship Plan class this spring. The FSP goes into way more detail than the FMP and will help us to manage our woods in a much more sustainable way.
Somewhere in between hugel building, charcuterie and preparing the forest management plan we squeezed in a little Christmas. Just a little Charlie Brown tree from the woods behind the house – no lights, no decorations. We never made it up into the attic to get everything down. We intended to make a popcorn and cranberry garland to then leave out for the birds but charcuterie day turned into charcuterie week and we ran out of time. No Christmas cookies or candy making this year – just a rum cake for Christmas day dessert. The grand plan to serve Duck L’Orange for dinner turned into Rooster L’Orange. I waited too long to get a local duck, but luckily M had recently harvested a couple of our young roos. Despite the busyness, we somehow managed to overstuff our stockings and ourselves (with pate and sausages from charcuterie week – yum!) and still ended up with quite a few presents under our tiny tree come Christmas morning. Thank goodness for that free trial of Amazon Prime.