March 19, 2019
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today highlighted Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed Empire Forest for the Future Initiative (EFFI) at Forestry Awareness Day, an event hosted by the Empire State Forest Products Association at the State Capital. EFFI is a multi-part program under Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2018-19 Executive Budget with the goal of protecting and enhancing the health, quality, and sustainability of trees and forests across New York State.
“Protecting New York’s forest lands and open space has been a priority under Governor Cuomo’s leadership,” said Seggos. “The Empire Forest for the Future Initiative serves as a milestone effort to protect and conserve the state’s vast forest resources held by more than 700,000 forest owners across New York. EFFI will provide great benefits to the public, including sequestering carbon, reducing the impacts of flooding, preserving wildlife habitat, and helping the forest products industry grow sustainably in our state.”
The EFFI proposal would reform and expand New York’s forest tax incentive law to increase sustainable production of timber on private property for the forest products industry, encourage preservation of open space, and to reimburse localities a portion of their tax shift resulting from this law; implement a timber harvest notification system; create a state wood product procurement preference; and establish two new grant programs to provide resources for municipalities and private forest owners to secure and/or manage forest lands.
The initiative follows through on a proposal made by Governor Cuomo in his 2017 State of the State message and recognizes that when coupled with State land acquisition, protecting and sustaining New York’s private forest lands and developing municipally managed community forests are critical components in the fight against climate change and supporting the state’s economy. Private forests account for three-quarters of New York’s 19 million acres of forest land.
"The Nature Conservancy supports the Empire Forests for the Future Initiative, and urges lawmakers to ensure it is included in the state budget," said Jessica Ottney Mahar, policy director for The Nature Conservancy in New York. "This proposal will provide tax relief to private forest land owners, who steward 75 percent of New York's 19 million acres of forests; and incentivize sustainable forest management that can sequester carbon dioxide to help us fight climate change, provide wildlife habitat, and improve water quality. This is one of the most important conservation proposals in the budget this year."
"Promoting sustainable forest management protects the water quality, lands, and habitat, that makes the Catskill Region the beautiful and vibrant place it is," said Katherine Nadeau, Catskill Mountainkeeper's Deputy Director. "The Empire Forest of the Future Initiative will do just that, and should be included in the final enacted budget this year. For our communities and everyone who drinks New York City water, much of which originates in the Catskills, providing incentives to manage our forests in a way that protects water quality is good common sense."
Jeff Senterman, Executive Director, Catskill Center, said, "Reforming and expanding NY’s forest tax incentive law through the Empire Forest for the Future Initiative would be a great step forward to ensuring private forest lands continue to produce timber sustainably, open spaces remain protected and localities see a portion of the tax shift reimbursed. We look forward to the enactment and implementation of EFFI and believe it will be good for our Catskills forests.”
“We commend Governor Cuomo for following through on his commitment in 2017 to put forth a comprehensive forest stewardship initiative for private forest landowners. We at ESFPA are actively working with the Governor, a broad group of stakeholders and our elected State Legislators on pulling together a package of reforms and new programs that will have a lasting impact on the State's forests," said John Bartow, Executive Director, Empire State Forest Products Association. "There is no broader landscape scale impact, nor larger return on investment than what EFFI is proposing for New York’s environment and forest based economy.”
Under the current tax law program established in 1974, forest owners with more than 50 eligible forested acres receive an exemption of 80 percent from local real property taxes by agreeing to a strict work schedule of forest management practices on all acres of enrolled forests. The new program would lower the minimum number of acres to 25, and offer the opportunity for properties certified by a third party as sustainably managed forest land or that undertake a DEC-approved forest management practice to enter the program, as well as require land owners to commit not to developing the property.
The new law would provide a 70 percent reduction for sustainably certified properties and a 40 percent exemption from local property taxes for undertaking forest management practices and ease the tax shift burden on local governments by reimbursing taxing entities if the impact of exempt property in the program affects the assessment roll by more than one percent. The proposed changes were developed to encourage more enrollment in this forest protection and utilization program by forest land owners.
The EFFI proposal also includes a harvest notification component that would require DEC notification of any commercial timber harvest covering an area of 10 or more acres. The notification would provide DEC with important information about the location and extent of timber harvesting in the state and allow DEC to monitor the long-term sustainability of New York’s privately held forest resources that provide most of the timber used by the state’s $23 billion forest products industry. Notification also provides a mechanism to combat the unwanted movement of invasive insect and disease outbreaks such as Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Long Horned Beetle, and the Spotted Lantern Fly.
EFFI provides for a new Community Forestry grant opportunity to expand public forest land holdings; the proposed EPF budget includes $500,000 for this program as well as $500,000 for a new cost-share program for landowners to better manage their forestlands and open space.
If approved in the 2019 State budget, both the new forest tax law and the community forest and forest practices assistance programs will be expected to be available starting March 1, 2019, or earlier.
For more information on EFFI, including all the components of the proposed initiative and a breakdown of the tax law changes, visit DEC’s website at https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/112691.html.