The first requirement for wildlife management use qualification is purely technical and is not related to the land’s actual use to manage wildlife. The law restricts what land may qualify for wildlife management use. To qualify for agricultural or timber appraisal under the wildlife management use, the property owner must have qualified the land for agricultural appraisal under Chapter 23, Subchapter D or E of the The Texas Property Tax Code, at the time the owner changes the land’s use to wildlife management use. For example, an owner who wishes to qualify land for wildlife management or timber use in 2016 must show that the land was qualified for and appraised as agricultural or timber land in 2015.
The second requirement for qualified wildlife management use is that the owner must use the land to propagate a sustaining breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wild animals.
Land may qualify for wildlife management use if it is instrumental in supporting a sustaining breeding, migrating, or wintering population. The group of animals need not permanently live on the land, provided they regularly migrate across the land or seasonally live there. A sustaining breeding population is a group of indigenous wild animals large enough to live independently over several generations. This definition implies that the population will not die out since it produces enough animals to continue as a viable group. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department may be able to provide information to help determine the number of animals of a particular species that must group together to sustain the population.
The law requires an owner to propagate the wildlife population for human use. Human use may include food, medicine, or recreation. Using animals for food and medicine is self-explanatory. Food and medicine uses result in products and require active participation. A recreational use may be either active or passive and may include any type of use for pleasure or sport. Bird watching, hiking, hunting, photography, and other non-passive recreational and hobby-type activities are qualifying recreational uses. An owner’s passive enjoyment in owning and managing the land for wildlife is a qualifying recreational use.
For more information, see Chapter 23 of the The Texas Property Tax Code .
Degree of Intensity
The degree of intensity standard for wildlife management land is determined in the same way as other agricultural uses. Wildlife management land usually requires management of the land that encourages long-term maintenance of the population.
A chief appraiser may ask questions such as whether fencing is typical in the area for managing the target population, and what is the typical population size. In addition, the chief appraiser may ask how many of the following activities are typical in the area (or are typical for the area during some parts of the year): habitat management, predator management, erosion control, providing supplemental supplies of food or water, providing shelter, and engaging in census counts.
Because wildlife management activities are elements of the degree of intensity determination, the owner must be engaging in three of seven activities to the degree of intensity typical for the area. General principles of the degree of intensity test are discussed in the Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land.
History of Use
The land must have qualified for 1-d-1 agricultural use or timberland, and have been appraised as 1-d-1 agricultural land or timberland in the year before the owner changes use to wildlife management. Consequently, the time period test to determine if the land has been used in agriculture for five of the preceding seven years is usually not necessary.
The wildlife management use is a revenue neutral use of land, meaning that the owner who switches from another agricultural use to wildlife management use must initially pay the same amount of property taxes that would have been paid if the land had remained in its former agricultural use category.
Land qualified for wildlife management should be placed in a wildlife management category, but should have the same appraised value as before conversion to wildlife management use. For example, if the land was used and valued as grazing land before the owner switched its use to wildlife management, the land should be placed in the wildlife management category, but will be appraised at the grazing land value.
The law does not require an annual application for agricultural use once the land has qualified. Because only 1-d-1 qualified land or timberland may qualify for wildlife management use, the owner who changes to this use need not reapply for agricultural appraisal.
The law, however, does require an owner who changes the category of agricultural use to notify the chief appraiser of the change of use. When an owner changes agricultural use to wildlife management, the owner must notify the chief appraiser in writing before May 1 of the year in which the owner wants to qualify under wildlife management use. The chief appraiser will then determine if the land qualifies for wildlife management use. Likewise, an owner must notify the chief appraiser if land is switched to another qualifying agricultural use.
Owners should contact their county appraisal districts about notification requirements before changing the use of small portions of their land from one qualified agricultural use to another. For example, if an owner builds a 10-acre pond to supply supplemental water on a 1000-acre tract, the owner should ask about the appraisal district’s need for notification and documentation requirements.
An owner’s wildlife management use must meet all the requirements to qualify for agricultural use, defined in Chapter 23 of the The Texas Property Tax Code. The following is a short discussion of the principal issues involved in agricultural use of land used for wildlife management. For a thorough discussion of these components, please refer to the State Comptroller of Public Accounts Manual of the Appraisal of Agricultural Land.
The law requires agriculture to be the primary use of the land. Wildlife management is an agricultural use under the law. The primary use requirement is particularly important for land used to manage wildlife. For example, land devoted to wildlife management can be used as a residence for the owner. But the land will not qualify if residential use – and not wildlife management – is the land’s primary use.
The chief appraiser must gather and consider all the surrounding facts to determine whether the land is primarily used to manage wildlife. Some relevant questions include:
- Is the owner implementing an active, written wildlife management plan that shows the owner is engaging in all the activities necessary to preserve a sustaining breeding population on the land? While the law does not require the owner to have a management plan, a plan is clear evidence of the owner’s use of the land primarily for wildlife management. A good plan will usually list wildlife management activities with the appropriate seasons and the sequence of events.
- Do the owner’s management practices emphasize managing the population to ensure its continued existence over another use of the land? For example, does the owner refrain from allowing visitors on the land in years when the habitat is sensitive?
- Has the owner engaged in the wildlife management practices necessary to sustain and encourage growth of the population? In some cases, an owner must control predators and supply water when water is not adequate, supply shelter and food when natural food production is not adequate, and establish vegetation to control erosion. In other cases, less active management may maintain and encourage the growth of wildlife.
- Are there improvements – appropriate fencing for example – necessary to control or sustain the wildlife population? The owner may use land for purposes that are secondary to the primary use of wildlife management if the secondary use is compatible with the primary use. For example, an owner may engage in wildlife management and also operate a business in which bird watchers stay on the land overnight and watch for birds during the day (known as a bird-and-breakfast operation). This activity is secondary to the primary activity of managing the wildlife, but it is not incompatible with the wildlife management use. General principals of primary and secondary use are discussed in the Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land.