If you own or are looking to buy Texas land, then as a landowner you may be interested in Texas’ wildlife exemption. It’s a good thing to know about before looking for a piece of Texas land for sale because your local real estate agent may or may not be familiar with specifics of the wildlife exemption. A wildlife exemption, which is more appropriately termed a wildlife valuation, allows a landowner to maintain ag valuation taxes without engaging in traditonal farming or ranching practices. However, landowners do have to manage their property for native wildlife species. Typically, many of the qualifying wildlife management practices fall in line with rural landowner’s objectives for their rural or even suburban property.
Qualifying for the Wildlife Tax Exemption:
1. Property must be qualified for agricultural use at the time the owner changes use to wildlife management use.
2. Property must be used to generate a sustaining breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wild animals.
3. Three or more qualifying wildlife management activities must take place on the property.
4. The current primary use of the property must be agriculure.
What This Means:
(1) This qualification is purely technical and is not related to the land’s actual use to manage wildlife. In other words, the land must have been qualified and appraised as agricultural land during the year before the year the owner changes to the wildlife management use, or wildlife valuation. For example, an owner who wishes to qualify for wildlife management use in 2010 must be able to show the land was qualified for and appraised as agricultural land in 2009.
(2) An indigenous animal is one that is native to Texas. Land may qualify for wildlife management use if it is instrumental in supporting a sustaining breeding, migrating or wintering population. A 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 that is large enough to live independently over several generations. This definition implies that the population will not die out because it produces enough animals to continue as a viable group.
- A migrating population of indigenous wild animals is a group of animals moving between seasonal ranges.
- A wintering population of indigenous wild animals is a group of animals living on its winter range.
- The law requires an owner to propagate the wildlife population for human use. Human use may include food, medicine or recreation.
- 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 or hobby-type activities are qualifying recreational uses. The owner’s passive enjoyment in owning the land and managing it for wildlife also is a qualifying recreational use.
(3) Meeting three of the possible seven management activities should be described in detail in the properties Wildlife Management Plan. This will also show evidence of the land’s primary Use and Degree of Intensity that are described below.
- Habitat Control (Habitat Management). A wild animal’s habitat is its surroundings as a whole, including plants, ground cover, shelter and other animals on the land. Habitat control or habitat management means actively using the land to create or promote an environment that is beneficial to wildlife on the land.
- Erosion Control. Any active practice that attempts to reduce or keep soil erosion to a minimum for the benefit of wildlife is erosion control.
- Predator Control (Predator Management). This term means practices intended to manage the population of predators to benefit the owner’s target wildlife population. Predator control is usually not necessary unless the number of predators is harmful to the desired wildlife population.
(4) The law requires agriculture to be the primary use of the land. This requirement is particularly important for land used to manage wildlife. For example, land devoted to wildlife management exemption 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. An appraiser should consider the following:
- Is the owner implementing an active, written, wildlife management plan that shows the owner is engaging in activities necessary to preserve a sustaining breeding population on the land? While the law does not require an 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/or sequence of events.
- Do the owner’s management practices emphasize managing the population to ensure its continued existence over another use of the land?
- Has the owner engaged in the wildlife management practices necessary to sustain and encourage the population?
- Providing Supplemental Supplies of Water. Natural water exists in all wildlife environments. Supplemental water is provided when the owner actively provides water in addition to the natural sources.
- Providing Supplemental Supplies of Food. Most wildlife environments have some natural food. An owner supplies supplemental food by providing food or nutrition in addition to the level naturally produced on the land.
- Providing Shelter. This term means actively creating or maintaining vegetation or artifical structures that provide shelter from the weather, nesting and breeding sites or “escape cover” from enemies.
- Making Census Counts to Determine Population. Census counts are periodic surveys and inventories to determine the number, composition or other relevant information about a wildlife population to measure if the current wildlife management practices are serving the targeted species.