What’s new in the new year? Maybe a new opportunity to manage your forest. Management practices in the Managed Forest Law program (MFL) may be “mandatory” or “non-mandatory.” Mandatory practices are the forest management practices required to meet the goals of the MFL program and practice sound forestry. It is important to everyone that these practices get completed, and that tax law gets landowners’ attention early when there’s a mandatory practice to complete.
Each year in the second or third week of January, thousands of MFL landowners receive reminder letters for mandatory practices scheduled in their MFL forest management plan for completion within the next two years. Under MFL, mandatory practices are “due” at the end of the calendar year in which they are scheduled. Here, “due” means you must have started your practice and be in touch with your Tax Law Forestry Specialist regarding your plan to complete it. Recognizing that completing the mandatory practice can be a long process, reminder letters are sent out two years before the practice is due. If the landowner has not taken AND communicated any action toward practice completion, a second reminder letter is sent one year before the practice is due.
The mandatory practice is where the rubber meets the road in the MFL program and, understandably, can be intimidating for many landowners. Mandatory practices are typically timber harvest practices, and all mandatory practices are designed to achieve landowner goals, maintain forest health, and improve forest productivity. Mandatory practices could require site preparation, planting tree seedlings, invasive species control, or releasing seedlings or saplings from competing vegetation. Nearly all MFL plans include at least one mandatory practice during the 25- or 50-year plan period, and many landowners will complete multiple mandatory practices scheduled over the course of their enrollment.
As discussed in this article, many landowner responsibilities come with MFL participation, but completing the mandatory practice is the obligation landowners will experience most acutely. This is particularly true if the MFL mandatory practice is a landowner’s first time involved with timber harvesting. We understand that completing a mandatory practice can feel overwhelming, and our goal is to help you comply with the MFL program and achieve your forest management goals.
We’ve found that the best way to move forward with the mandatory practice is to break it down into smaller steps, and we recommend the following actions to get started.
1. Find professional forestry assistance
Although not required, we strongly recommend hiring a cooperating forester to help you complete your mandatory practice(s). MFL requirements can be complex, and mandatory practice completion must comply with MFL requirements. Getting professional help from a private consulting forester partnering with the DNR through the cooperating forester program is a great way to complete the mandatory practice(s) successfully and takes a significant burden off the landowner’s shoulders. Cooperating foresters can be found through the DNR’s Forestry Assistance Locator.
2. Verify the forest conditions
The professional you work with will verify the forest conditions. The forester that wrote your MFL plan scheduled mandatory practices considering the condition of the forest at the time the plan was written, the expected development of the forest over time, and silvicultural guidance on when and how to implement forest management practices. Forest conditions can and do change over time, so it is important to verify that the forest is ready for the mandatory practice as scheduled.
3. Communicate with the local Tax Law Forestry Specialist
Whether your practice is ready to go as scheduled or not, let your Tax Law Forestry Specialist (TLFS) know. If you don’t know who your TLFS is, they can be found using the Forestry Assistance Locator. Your TLFS is also identified on the mandatory practice reminder letter you may have received. You can work with your forestry professional to implement the mandatory practice if it is ready, or you can work with your TLFS to reschedule or develop appropriate next steps if the practice is not ready or needs to be modified to better match on the ground conditions or your landowner objectives.
Taking these recommended initial steps and staying in touch with us will set you up for success in managing your mandatory practices. These are, however, just the initial steps. The process to complete the mandatory practice also includes: a more in-depth evaluation of the woods, establishing the harvest or practice, filling out and submitting the MFL cutting notice, completing the harvest or practice, filling out and submitting the MFL cutting report, and completing any necessary follow-up work. The Harvesting Trees on Managed Forest Law and Forest Crop Law Lands webpages were recently updated and detail these steps, plus provide additional resources to help you along the way. Stay tuned for additional videos coming later in 2023 for completing and submitting the cutting notice.