By Nicholas Holmes, DNR Tax Law Forestry Specialist serving Brown, Door, Kewaunee and Outagamie Counties
Is your Managed Forest Law (MFL) Order Commitment expiring? Would you like to reenroll, add land to your current enrollment, or are you considering enrolling in MFL for the first time? You must hire a Certified Plan Writer (CPW) to prepare an application and submit it to the DNR by June 1, 2024.
Managed Forest Law (MFL) expiration letters were mailed in July to landowners whose MFL enrollment expires on Dec. 31, 2024. Landowners who qualify and wish to remain in the MFL program without a lapse in enrollment will need to meet the application deadline of June 1, 2024. Landowners who are not currently enrolled in the MFL but who qualify and wish to enroll as of Jan. 1, 2025 need to meet the same deadline. If there has been a change to your contact information, please inform your local Tax Law Forestry Specialist of your correct address so expiration letters reach the appropriate destination.
Before enrolling, reenrolling or adding land to your current enrollment, familiarize yourself with today’s program requirements and ensure that MFL is a good fit for you. Many changes have been made to the MFL program over the last several years. Landowners are highly encouraged to visit the Managed Forest Law page on the WI DNR website to familiarize themselves with the rules and requirements of the program.
The minimum required acreage for enrollment was increased from 10 acres to 20 acres in 2016. However, 10-acre parcels that are currently enrolled in the MFL program are eligible for a one-time renewal into the MFL program. To receive this one-time renewal, there are several criteria that must be met, including completing any necessary Transfer of Ownership requests prior to the application being submitted, and enrolling the same parcel shape/size. The 20-acre minimum enrollment may be composed of at least two contiguous 10+ acres parcels connected by land under the same ownership. Each parcel must also meet MFL productivity and applicable access requirements.
Building rules for the MFL program also changed in recent years. For new applications, the only buildings allowed are hunting blinds and buildings used exclusively for storage. The building also must not render the parcel more than 20% non-productive. If there is a building on the land that does not meet one of these requirements, it must be excluded from the new application, even if it was allowed in the MFL program previously.
One last change worth noting is for MFL additions. An MFL addition allows landowners to add additional acreage to an already existing MFL plan. Additions take on the rules of the already existing MFL plan (tax rates, expiration year, building rules). As of April 2022, additions of any size are now allowed on MFL enrollments if they are contiguous or are at least 10 acres and connected by a tract of land under the same ownership. Previously, MFL additions had to be contiguous and at least three acres. MFL additions must still meet other MFL eligibility requirements and be submitted through the same process as new MFL plans and applications.
To enroll in the MFL program, landowners must submit an application and management plan. All applications must be submitted by a Certified Plan Writer (CPW). CPWs are professional cooperating foresters who have signed an agreement to adhere to DNR guidance and received training and annual recertification to write MFL plans.
How do landowners find CPWs to prepare their MFL applications? The WI DNR Forestry Assistance Locator allows landowners to select the county where their property is located and find CPWs who write plans in the selected county by checking the “Certified Plan Writer (MFL Plans)” box. DNR encourages landowners to hire a CPW well in advanced of the application deadline to ensure ample time for the CPW to conduct a field visit and write your management plan. This is especially true for landowners who have low-lying ground, for example cedar stands and hardwood swamps, as many of these sites must be visited in the wintertime when there is frozen ground to walk across.
During the plan writing process, the CPW will ask the landowner what their goals and objectives are for the property. Landowners who can provide detailed answers are best positioned to help the CPW shape the management plan to accomplish the goals of the landowner. All MFL management plans have timber production as their primary goal – MFL is a forest management program first and foremost. Given enough information though, CPWs can tailor a landowner’s management plan to accomplish a wide range of complementary goals as well, including wildlife habitat, sightseeing and other recreational activities.
Big decisions: your MFL enrollment options. There are several decisions a landowner will have to make during the plan writing process. Some of these decisions are reversible, like to enroll land to be open or closed to public access (which has an effect on their MFL tax rate), and whether they want to participate in the MFL Certified Group. Other decisions can only be made once per enrollment, including whether to enroll their land in the MFL program for 25 or 50 years. More information on enrollment can be found on the MFL General Questions page as well as other links on the MFL web pages.
The Managed Forest Law program is a complex program that goes beyond simply providing landowners a tax incentive for enrolling. Landowners who receive an MFL expiration letter are encouraged to reach out to a Certified Plan Writer (CPW) as soon as possible. This will help ensure that landowners can have their questions answered and provide the CPWs plenty of time to complete a plan which accommodates the landowner’s goals for the property prior to the June 1 application deadline. Hiring a CPW to navigate the MFL planning process, allowing time for the planning process, and being engaged in the MFL planning process can set landowners up for long-term success in MFL. Landowners may also reach out to their local Tax Law Forestry Specialist with any additional questions they may have.