To take advantage of either the FCMA or the FMP, however, landowners are first required to have a forest stewardship plan for their property. The plan, which a licensed professional forester must develop, has to meet the basic requirements for either one of two programs: the Forest Stewardship program, which requires a minimum of 5 forested acres, or the Tree Farm program, which in Maryland requires a minimum of 10 forested acres. A Maryland registered forester can develop stewardship plans that meet individual landowners’ objectives. The registered forester can be a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forester, a private consulting forester, or an industrial forester.
Forest Conservation Management Agreement (FCMA)
Any owner of 5 or more connected acres is eligible to enter into a FCMA with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Although house sites, cropland, and other non-forest open spaces are not eligible, land recently planted with forest tree seedlings or Christmas trees is eligible one year after planting. An FCMA is based on a forest management plan developed by a Maryland licensed forester in consultation with the landowner. The plan, which outlines several forest management activities that must be completed, is a legal agreement recorded in land records, binding for 15 years, and renewable. The plan and associated activities can be modified with the agreement of the state forester. In return, the property is assessed at $125 per acre regardless of its location in the state. The valuation is frozen at the assessed level for the 15 years of the agreement. If the plan is not followed for the full 15 years, the landowner will be assessed penalty taxes for the noncompliant years.
Landowners will be charged fees during the lifetime of the FCMA. Fees can be deducted from your federal income tax return:
- A stewardship plan development fee of from$200 to $300, if developed by a MD-DNR forester and depending on the acreage. This fee is not eligible for cost sharing if a MD-DNR forester develops the plan.
- An entry fee that is equal to 0.55 percent of the land’s assessed value, but not less than $50; and
- Inspection fees equal to 20 percent of the entry fee but not less than $100, for required inspections by a DNR forester every 5 years. Many counties require inspections every 3 years. Information about the FCMA is available from your local MD-DNR forester.
Forest Management Plan (FMP)
The FMP, unlike an FCMA, is not a legal agreement and does not require an entry fee. As with the FCMA, however, a Maryland licensed forester consults with the landowner and prepares a forest stewardship plan. The landowner has the responsibility of submit-ting the plan to the county assessor. Many county tax assessment offices require that a Maryland licensed forester inspect the land every 3 years. Some consulting and industrial foresters do not charge an inspection fee for existing clients. In 2002, land under an FMP is valued at $187.50 per acre. This value is not frozen and can change during the 3 years of the agreement, However, it has remained static since 2002.
The FMP requires these fees:
- A stewardship plan development fee. Maryland state foresters charge from $200 to $300, depending on the acreage. Most consulting foresters will develop a management plan, but fees vary. Some industrial foresters will develop plans for their clients as a professional service.
- Inspection fees. If inspections are required by the county tax assessment office, state and consulting foresters can provide this service. Fees, which vary, typically start at $100. The FMP has no entry fee, no legal attachment in the land records, and a shorter length of commitment. In comparison the FCMA offers a direct relationship with the state forester, which eases communication and service, and a per acre assessment that will not change for 15 years.
Some county assessment offices may be reluctant to acknowledge the FMP option; however, it is a state tax assessment option that counties are legally bound to honor, according to Property Tax Article 8-211. For more information, contact your county tax assessment office, a DNR forester, or a consulting or industrial forester. Landowners need to evaluate their individual situations to determine which plan, FCMA or FMP, is more advantageous to them.