Last year, changes to Wisconsin DNR policy and procedures for mandatory practice compliance were adopted, culminating in a new Chapter 601: Mandatory Practice Compliance Procedures within the Forest Tax Law Handbook. For a summary of these changes, you can reference this newsletter article from last year. In particular, 2023 will be the first year implementing the new procedures for what we refer to as “services accepted.” A new process merits an explanation of what services accepted means and how it impacts a landowner’s compliance with Managed Forest Law (MFL) and Forest Crop Law (FCL).
The mandatory practice is often where the rubber meets the road in MFL and FCL. Mandatory practices are forest management practices, most frequently timber harvests, required under MFL to ensure continued production of marketable timber products from enrolled properties. Given the importance of the mandatory practice, the Forest Tax Law section and our partners often communicate about these. There are reminder letters to affected landowners, webpages describing harvesting on tax law lands, mandatory practice workshops and newsletter articles.
A common message in almost all communication around mandatory practices is to seek professional forestry assistance. This is the recommended first step toward implementing mandatory practices on MFL and FCL properties. It is good advice, in general, for getting started with active forest management regardless of program participation.
Along with the recommendation to get professional assistance, landowners are asked to communicate that action to their local Tax Law Forestry Specialist. Depending on the arrangement with the contractor, the forestry professional may also update the Tax Law Forestry Specialist that they are working with a landowner. Regardless of how it is communicated that a landowner has secured the services of a forestry professional, the Tax Law Forestry Specialist will update the practice to a “services accepted” status.
The services accepted status indicates the landowner is actively working with a forestry professional to resolve their mandatory practices and is still in good standing with FCL or MFL program concerning their scheduled practices. Mandatory harvest and thinning practices can remain in services accepted status for up to three years from when the practice was scheduled. That three-year period allows the landowner and their contracted professional time to work through the process to establish the practice and submit the MFL cutting notice. A cutting notice or plan amendment proposal must be submitted before the end of the third year to remain compliant with the program.
A reminder letter will be sent to landowners six months before the three-year timeline expires if no cutting notice or plan amendment proposal has been submitted for their mandatory practices. Cooperating foresters also have the opportunity to vet the list of landowners with expiring services accepted practices before reminder letters are sent.
2023 is the first year implementing this process for practices in services accepted status. This year, a staggered approach will be taken to address practices beyond the three-year window that existed before the adoption of this new process. For 2023, landowners with practices scheduled in 2019 and earlier will receive a reminder letter. In 2023, landowners with practices scheduled in 2020 and 2021 will receive a reminder letter. After that point, the three-year timeline will be on schedule.
Our goal in the Forest Tax Law section is to help landowners reach their land management objectives, practice sound forestry and remain in compliance with the program. If harvest or thinning practices aren’t resolved (e.g., cutting notice submitted or plan amended through mutual agreement of the landowner and the DNR) by Dec. 31 of the third year, the landowner will be out of compliance with MFL or FCL. Compliance action will commence early the following year, which can include withdrawal from MFL or FCL with tax and fee.
Here is an example to illustrate this process:
Scott Pine has an aspen coppice harvest and a pine thinning scheduled in 2022 for his MFL property. After receiving the reminder letter for his mandatory practices, Scott found a cooperating forester using the Forestry Assistance Locator on the DNR website. After securing the forester’s services, Scott notified his Tax Law Forestry Specialist that a cooperating forester is helping with the practices. The Tax Law Forestry Specialist updated Scott’s practices to services accepted status. At this point, Scott’s practices are compliant with MFL until the end of 2025, three years from when the practices were scheduled.
After evaluating the woods, Scott’s contracted forester advises that the aspen coppice is ready to go, but the pine thinning is not ready and should be pushed back several years to allow the stand to develop. Scott’s forester submits the MFL cutting notice for the aspen harvest, and the plan is amended through mutual agreement between Scott and the Tax Law Forestry Specialist to reschedule the pine thinning. Both practices have been resolved, one through submitting a cutting notice and implementing the practice, and the other through plan amendment to reschedule the practice.
If Scott or his forester did not take any action before June 2025, he would receive a reminder letter to resolve the practices before the end of the year.