The Wildlife Tax Valuation (Exemption) in Texas

If you live in Texas and love native wildlife then you have an awesome option available to you, the wildlife tax valuation. Many folks will refer to the land valuation as a “wildlife exemption”, so just realize that the two are one in the same. Anyone that currently posses a 1-d-1 agricultural tax valuation on their land can apply to convert their property to a wildlife tax valuation and conduct wildlife management practices in lieu of traditional farming and ranching practices. The really good part is that the low ag taxes still apply!

History of the Wildlife Tax Valuation

Prior to 1995, properties managed solely for wildlife did not qualify for the property tax valuation as did lands designated for agricultural use or open-space use. A bill originating in the Texas House of Representatives, HB 1358, called for an amendment to the Texas constitution that added wildlife management to the list of qualifying agricultural practices. The bill would allow these properties managed for wildlife to also have property taxes based on land productivity rather than market value. House Joint Resolution 72 put the amendment 1.

Wildlife Management as Agricultural Use for Property Tax Valuation in Texas SCS-2010-03 to the Texas Constitution known as “Proposition 11” on the general election ballot and Texas voters passed it by a margin of nearly 2 to 1. Currently the state of Texas Tax Code contains the following language, under Texas Tax Code, Subchapter D, Sec. 23.51 (2).:

“Agricultural use” includes but is not limited to the following activities: cultivating the soil, producing crops for human food, animal feed, or planting seed or for the production of fibers; floriculture, viticulture, and horticulture; raising or keeping livestock; raising or keeping exotic animals for the production of human food or of fiber, leather, pelts, or other tangible products having a commercial value; planting cover crops or leaving land idle for the purpose of participating in a governmental program, provided the land is not used for residential purposes or a purpose inconsistent with agricultural use; and planting cover crops or leaving land idle in conjunction with normal crop or livestock rotation procedure.

The term also includes the use of land to produce or harvest logs and posts for the use in constructing or repairing fences, pens, barns, or other agricultural improvements on adjacent qualified open-space land having the same owner and devoted to a different agricultural use. The term also includes the use of land for wildlife management.”

Understanding the Wildlife Exemption

When a property owner elects to convert from ag use to wildlife management, the property owner must make application to the county chief appraiser between January 1 and April 30 of the year in which the owner wants to implement the change to wildlife management agricultural use. The chief appraiser will determine if the land qualifies for wildlife management agricultural use.

Once a tract of land has been qualified for the wildlife tax appraisal, a landowner does not have to re-apply each year for open-space appraisal. However, the chief appraiser may require an annual report on a form prescribed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) describing how the wildlife management plan was implemented during the year. The law, however, does require an owner who changes the category of agricultural use to notify the chief appraiser. Additionally, a landowner must contact the chief appraiser if property reverts back from wildlife management use to another qualifying traditional agricultural use.

Many landowners who currently own land in Texas or whom are thinking about buying land in Texas, are not aware that managing for wildlife can qualify for an open space valuation. While it is quite simple to switch from traditional ag uses such as cattle or hay production to wildlife management use, there are several guidelines that must be adhered to in order for the land to receive the special tax appraisal based on wildlife management activities.

The enjoyment associated with managing for wildlife, however, make the change in land use management worthwhile for many landowners. It often seems that Texas landowners either lease out the grazing or farming rights simply to maintain the low ag taxes. This can be a source of some income, but many times the landowners do not get to enjoy their own property because others have payed for access and use, to which the property owner defers their own enjoyment.

Wildlife Tax Valuation/Exemption Qualifications

The wildlife tax valuation is a great fit for Texas property owners that are interested in managing for native plants and animals on their property. In short, a landowner must implement at least three out of seven management practices. These practices are typically activities vary by ecoregion, but are often activities that most landowners are already implemented. Typically, minor modifications allow the owner to qualify for the wildlife tax exemption. If you are considering switching from ag to wildlife, here are the key things to remember:

  • The tract must have been qualified as 1-d-1 Open-Space Agricultural Use land the year prior to changing to wildlife management. It must also posses the same designation at the time it is converted.
  • The property must be used to support a sustaining breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wild animals. In short, the main use of the land must be for managing wildlife habitat and populations.
  • An application for 1-d-1 Open Space Agricultural Appraisal must be submitted showing the change in property use to wildlife management and submitted to the county appraisal district in the county in which the property is located.
  • A Wildlife Management Plan for Agricultural Tax Valuation must be submitted to the Central Appraisal District in the county in which the property is located.
  • If property has been cut out of an existing tract, i.e. reduced in size, since the previous tax year, then minimum tract size requirements must be met to qualify for wildlife management. There is NO MINIMUM size the property has NOT been reduced in size since the previous tax year.

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