Q&A Regarding the NJ Forest Stewardship Act of 2009
NOTE: On December 18, 2017, DEP published the final rules for the Forest Stewardship program. We are in the process of updating our guidance regarding this new program. We expect to update our guidance to clients during the 1st week in February. Thank you! -Gracie & Harrigan
Q: Does the Act change the requirements for Farmland Assessment? A: No. Traditional Farmland Assessment remains unaltered. Rather, this Act creates a "sister" program to Farmland Assessment whereby forest lands can receive reduced assessment by meeting certain requirements that will be decided by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Q: Does the Act eliminate the two-year qualifying period for Farmland Assessment? A: No.
Q: Does the Act apply to farm fields, pasture, orchard, Christmas tree plantations, and other agricultural lands? A: No. The Act specifically addresses "forest land" (Section 10(b), Section 10(c), and Section 10(d)). Unless such an open field area is actively undergoing afforestation, these lands would still need to show active devotion to agriculture independent of this Act.
Q: Does the Act eliminate the income requirement for Farmland Assessment? A: Traditional Farmland Assessment remains unaltered. For forest lands that are attempting to qualify through this Act, there is no requirement for sale, harvest, or receipts for any forest products. As long as the Forest Stewardship Plan is being fully implemented, the forest land will qualify for the reduced assessment. As stated above, farm field and pasture land will still need to qualify under traditional Farmland Assessment.
Q: Can a property that currently qualifies under traditional Farmland Assessment transition into the NJ Forest Stewardship program? A: Yes. As long as the land had qualified under traditional Farmland Assessment for the previous two years (Section 10(d)2).
Q: Does this Act supersede local tree cutting ordinances? A: Yes, if you have a Forest Stewardship Plan approved by the State Forester. Section 6 reads: "No local government unit may enact, on or after the date of enactment of [this Act] any ordinance, rule, or resolution, as appropriate, that ... impedes the implementation of a forest stewardship plan approved pursuant to [this Act] or impose a fee in excess of $100 in any calendar year for the cutting of trees on any land that is the subject of an approved forest stewardship plan. The provisions of [this Act] supersede any such ordinance, rule, or resolution, as appropriate, enacted or adopted on or prior to the date of enactment of [this Act]."
If your municipality has an onerous tree cutting ordinance, any activity that is in accordance with a Forest Stewardship Plan approved by the State Forester appears to be exempt. However, one does not need to be enrolled in the NJ Forest Stewardship program in order to enjoy the exemption. Section 6 allows for forest landowners in traditional Farmland Assessment who adhere to a Forest Stewardship Plan to enjoy the exemption.
Q: Is Farmland Assessment going away? A: No. In creating a "sister" program to traditional Farmland Assessment, the Legislature appears to have affirmed the need for that program.
Q: Who reviews the applications and the Forest Stewardship Plan? A: The municipal tax assessor and the NJ Forest Service (Section 10a).