Whether forested land for recreation, hunting, wildlife viewing, or other pursuits, the soil and water conservation district advises having a forestry plan in place.

Many agencies and organizations can assist with creating a forest stewardship or management plan through a Department of Natural Resources' forester, consulting firm, industry forester, environmental organization, or a soil and water conservation district.

"The SWCD will cost share at least 25 percent or possibly greater, depending on your location in Cass County, with the landowner and we provide landowners with a list of approved foresters as well," said Kelly Condiff of the Cass County Soil and Water Conservation District, adding it makes the process cheaper for the landowner.

Benefits of managed forests includes timber harvesting, wildlife habitat, and watershed protection. Below are several options private landowners can implement on their forest lands.

What is a Forest Management Plan?

A forest management plan outlines activities to meet the Minnesota Forest Resources Council

recommended guidelines for timber harvesting and forest management, as well as landowner use. The plan must have been written or updated within the last 10 years and prepared by a plan writer who is approved by the DNR. Cass SWCD will help landowners develop a forest management plan by providing a cost share of at least 25 percent and identifying authorized plan writers. Once a plan is completed, landowners register it with DNR and can file an application for the SFIA or Class 2c program.

The Sustainable Forest Incentive Act

The Sustainable Forest Incentive Act is a state program that provides incentive payments to

encourage sustainable use of forest lands. Enrolled property owners receive $7 for each acre in SFIA. In return, they agree to not develop the land and to follow a forest management plan while they are in the program. All land enrolled must remain in SFIA for at least eight years. Qualifying properties must be current on property taxes, have 20 or more contiguous acres, be at least 50 percent forest land, have an active forest management plan in place, and have an agreement (also known as a covenant) in place limiting the property's use to forest management activities.

How Does A Covenant Work?

To enroll in SFIA, the landowner must record a covenant on the property with the Cass County Recorder's Office. The covenant prohibits any use of the property that conflicts with the SFIA program, such as developing the property, using the property for residential or agricultural purposes, or not following the forest management plan.

The covenant "runs with" the land for at least eight years and it is binding on the landowner and successors. If a landowner changes their mind and wants to remove land from SFIA, there is a four-year waiting period before the covenant ends. During this time, the covenant is still binding and the landowner can continue to receive payments.

How to Enroll in SFIA

Interested landowners may download an application from the Minnesota Department of Revenue or pick one up at a DNR Forestry office or the Cass County Assessor's Office. Applications need to include copies of the recorded covenant, property tax statements for each parcel, and the forest management plan map.

Cass County currently has 15,571 acres and 323 parcels, enrolled in the SFIA program.

"A plan will can pay for itself in one-two years, if the landowner is diligent with requirements of

either program," Condiff stated.

What is Class 2c Managed Forest Land?

The Class 2c Managed Forest Land Program is a state program that provides a reduced class tax rate of 65 percent to forested property that is subject to a current forest management (stewardship) plan. A simplified example would be if your parcel of forested land is worth $200,000, it would have a tax capacity of $130,000 at the 65 percent rate. Taxes are reduced by nearly one-third.

The property must meet four criteria in order to qualify for participating in this program. Property must include at least 20 eligible acres of forested land, have a forest management plan that is registered with the DNR and is less than 10 years old, is not being farmed, and cannot include property that is enrolled in the Sustainable Forest Incentive Act, CRP, CREP, RIM, or Green Acres programs. The presence of a minor structure (sheds or primitive structures less than 300 square feet not designed for residential use) does not disqualify a property from participating in the program. Structures that are not minor require a minimum of 10 acres to be split off and assigned to the structure.

To apply for the Class 2c managed forest land program, contact the Cass County Assessor's

Office. Applications must be received by May 1 to qualify for the current assessment year. Applications need to include copies of property tax statements for all parcels being enrolled and a copy of a registered forest management plan that encompasses all land that is being enrolled. "The tax reduction is an excellent benefit of this Class 2c Program, along with getting a very thorough understanding of your property which is derived from the plan itself," Condiff stated.

For more information, contact Condiff at 218-547-7399 or kelly.condiff@co.cass.mn.us.