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Wild Forests Vermont & the Current Use Program

Update: In 2023, Governor Scott signed H.697 into law, now called Act 146, which amended UVA/Current Use to include a new category called Reserve Forestland.   You can learn more by clicking here.

Current Use, or the “Use Value Appraisal” program, is a tax-incentive program in Vermont that allows landowners to receive lower property tax rates in exchange for keeping their forests and agricultural lands from being developed. The program was instituted in 1977 and nearly 70% of eligible land is currently enrolled. The program originally allowed that only 50% of a property needed to be managed for timber products and economic values, and also includes the goals of protection of natural ecological systems as well as the preservation and enhancement of Vermont’s scenic natural resources.  Yet over the years, the allowance for half of one’s land to remain unmanaged was removed. This leaves little land in Current Use to grow old and wild on its own time, and also means that the choice to leave one’s forestland as wild is one of economic privilege and not accessible to those who need to have their land enrolled in Current Use due to the tax benefits.

Unlike all other New England states with such a program, Vermont currently has no category for landowners to enroll in Current Use without managing their land. Presently, there is no option for forests to receive a tax break if they are kept as wild—despite all the benefits to clean air, clean water, wildlife, recreation, scenic beauty, carbon storage, and flood resiliency that wild forests offer.  Likewise, if a landowner places a forever-wild conservation easement on their land, they are automatically disqualified for any tax benefits under Current Use.

Northeast Wilderness Trust is part of a coalition called Wild Forests Vermont, which believes wild forests should be on equal footing with managed forests under Current Use.   If Vermonters are allowed to enroll in Current Use to log forests, they should also have the option to let their forestland grow old.

Landowners have many reasons for owning forestland apart from production forestry. A 2017 survey of Vermont Family Forests landowners showed clean water, clean air, peace and solitude, and wildlife habitat were the highest priorities. Sustainable timber and firewood production came after all of these values.

The option to keep land as wild isn’t just a benefit for the property owner. Such wild-forest practices carry immense public benefits. Wild forests sequester and store carbon, produce outstanding water quality, support biodiversity, increase flood resilience. They offer recreation, scenic beauty, non-timber forest products beyond maple like mushrooms, fruits, and peace and quiet. They protect and enhance essential assets that we all hold in common. Surface water, wildlife, and air are not owned by anyone—they are the commonwealth—and forest landowners who enhance them are making an invaluable contribution to our public good.

Wild Forests Vermont is an initiative supported by Northeast Wilderness Trust, Vermont Family Forests, Standing Trees, and private forest landowners.

If you are a private landowner currently enrolled in UVA who would prefer not to manage the forest on your property or if you have wanted to enroll in UVA but requirement management has prevented you, please contact Jon Leibowitz at jon@newildernesstrust.org.

Additional Resources

Photos: Sophi Veltrop