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Vermont Family Forests
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Conserving The Health Of Our Local Forest Community

Review and Analysis of the Use Value Appraisal Program

The Use Value Appraisal Program allows agricultural and forest lands to be appraised at their use value as opposed to their fair market value. At least in theory, when taxes are set at values based upon the capacity of land to grow repeated farm and/or forest crops, then landowners are encouraged to keep farmland and forestland in production. Society continues to reap the associated benefits of undeveloped land.

Although many of the ecological, economic, and community benefits are externalized in the existing economic system, undeveloped lands provide many essential functions. Healthy forest lands, for example, produce higher quality water supplies, sequester more carbon, and are biologically more diverse than other land uses. And these functions will become more and more important with a rapidly changing climate and peaking fossil fuel supplies.

The goals of the use value appraisal program are found in 32 V.S.A. § 3751, as follows:

  • to encourage and assist the maintenance of Vermont's productive agricultural and forest land;

  • to encourage and assist in their conservation and preservation for future productive use and for the protection of natural ecological systems;

  • to prevent the accelerated conversion of these lands to more intensive use by the pressure of property taxation at values incompatible with the productive capacity of the land;

  • to achieve more equitable taxation for undeveloped lands; to encourage and assist in the preservation and enhancement of Vermont's scenic natural resources; and

  • to enable the citizens of Vermont to plan its orderly growth in the face of increasing development pressures in the interests of the public health, safety and welfare.

In 2007, the Vermont State Legislature directed the Legislative Council to hire a consultant to conduct a thorough and independent review of the use value appraisal program to determine its effectiveness. Deb Brighton was hired to conduct the study and Vermont Family Forests was asked to assist in that effort. A multi-disciplinary team was assembled team including Deb Brighton, Glenn Rogers, and Martha Sullivan as well as VFF’s Executive Director David Brynn and Forester Brendan Weiner. The study was completed in October of 2007. (Click here to read the study.)

In January of 2008, the results of the study were presented to the legislature by Deb Brighton, David Brynn, and Glenn Rogers. David Brynn made a presentation highlighting the functions and values of Vermont’s forests, the challenges facing those forests, and the effectiveness of the use value appraisal program in meetings some of those challenges (click here to view the presentation). Specifically:

  • Has the program achieved its statutory goal of encouraging and assisting in the maintenance of productive forest land?

  • Has the program achieved its statutory goal of encouraging and assisting in the conservation and preservation of enrolled forest land for the protection of natural ecological systems?  

  • Can computer technology allow landowners and consulting foresters to file documents and reports electronically and improve monitoring and compliance?

  • Is there sufficient personnel to administer the program adequately within the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation?

  • Would annual reporting by forest land owners affect the program?