Livestock has often been the answer for landowners to obtain an agricultural tax exemption. Owners of hunting property, though, don’t always want cattle on the property, at least not all of the time.
For several years, the opportunity to claim a wildlife appraisal to obtain a tax exemption on property has been in place. But the process can be a little bit daunting.
“There are rules in several different places, the Tax Code, the Texas Administrative Code, and there are comptroller-created rules to go along with the guidelines created by TPWD,” said Keith Olenick, senior biologist at Texas Wildlife Company. “It can be hard for a landowner making the switch to a wildlife exemption.”
An existing agricultural valuation is necessary before converting to a wildlife exemption, and then an application form and a wildlife management plan must be submitted to the appropriate central appraisal district.
“The application is available online, and the plan is based on a Texas Parks and Wildlife-created form, about 10 pages long,” Olenick said.
The landowner can complete the form, but a biologist-prepared form covers the bases a landowner might miss that result in the application being denied, Olenick said.
“A lot of appraisal districts want more than the basic information,” he explained. “They want to see maps and descriptions of the activities that will take place. They aren’t always quick to agree to reduced taxes on thousands of acres in their district.”
The Texas Tax Code includes wildlife management in the definition of agricultural uses of land and defines wildlife management.
“Basically, the plan must designate a targeted, native species and the practices need to benefit that species,” Olenick said. “This is the reason most plans are denied.”
“You can’t get the exemption for exotics or fish. But smaller properties have obtained plans for dove, rabbits, squirrels, songbirds, even butterflies.
“If the property is small, deer wouldn’t be the right choice. Appraisal districts don’t like to see plans for deer if the land is less than 100 acres.”
The landowner then must set out specific activities that will “propagate a sustaining breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wild animals for human use, including food, medicine or recreation,” according to the Tax Code.
According to the Tax Code, for land to qualify under Wildlife Management Use, the landowner must implement at least three of seven approved practices, being habitat control, erosion control, predator control, supplemental supplies of water, supplemental supplies of food, providing shelters and making census counts.
Habitat control includes things like brush management, prescribed burning and even deer harvesting since too many deer can destroy a lot of habitat, Olenick said.
Predator control seems like an easy item, but approval requires more than just ridding the property of a few hogs or coyotes.
“The guidelines aren’t clear, but if you’re trapping hogs, they will look at how many traps and how often it’s being done. It needs to have an impact on what you are trying to control,” Olenick said.
“A shoot-on-site policy for hogs might be enough if there is hunting going on throughout the year, whereas weekend hunters there for five weekends each year may not be enough.”
Supplemental water includes items such as rainwater collection systems, livestock troughs if they are modified to allow the targeted species to get water (especially in cases of wild turkey and quail) and building wetlands for migratory birds.
Owners planning to apply for a wildlife exemption this year may want to get busy. Applications to Central Appraisal Districts are due by April 30. If the plan is approved, it is retroactive to Jan. 1.
“So the landowner needs to start doing the practices in the plan right away, like brush management and surveys,” Olenick said. “The appraisal district may show up to inspect the property and the burden of proof is on the landowner to show they are doing the practices.”
Olenick offered a final tip.
“Don’t be afraid to work with your appraisal district and tell them what you are doing,” he said. “Then, when they receive the plan, they will have expected it. That is looked at differently than a plan that is received without notice on April 30.”