If you own five acres or more of forested property in Washington, you might want to know about something called “designated forest land”. The State of Washington encourages you to be a responsible citizen with property by providing a tax assessment option for forest landowners in our state that can lower your taxes.

A group of neighbors came together three years ago to create forestry plan to replant trees harvested prior to the subdividing of the property during the late 90s/early 00s. Over 1600 trees were planted the week of April 12th on over 60 acres of hillside near Shadow Bay.

To learn more on this program visit: https://snohomishcd.org/blog/2016/1/6/state-tax-option-can-help-private-forests-survive

The purpose of a designated forest land tax option is to encourage forest landowners to maintain their land as forest. The Legislature recognized that productive forest lands provide a multitude of essential public benefits, such as:

  • supplying us with clean water and clean air
  • protecting the soil
  • reducing flood damage
  • slowing storm water
  • providing habitat and food for wildlife
  • beauty and recreational opportunities
  • jobs

Details of a Forest Land Designation

To be designated as forest, the land must be at least five contiguous acres of forest (which can comprise multiple adjacent parcels), not including any residential portion. If there is a residential portion, typically a minimum of one acre is excluded. Thus, landowners living on their property should have at least six acres total, five of which must be forest.

The law specifies that land designated as forest must be “devoted primarily to growing and harvesting timber”. Landowners who are primarily interested in aesthetics, recreation, habitat, etc. or otherwise don’t intend to use their land for timber production should not enroll in this option.

While designated forest land is a state law, it is administered at the county level by the county assessor’s office. At the assessor’s discretion, a written timber management plan may be required when enrolling your forest land, or when you sell it. WSU Extension’s Forest Stewardship Coached Planning classes (http://forestry.wsu.edu) are designed to help landowners write their own qualifying timber management plan. Landowners can also pay a consultant to write their plan.

‘Forest Land’ versus ‘Open Space Timber’

Twenty acres used to be the minimum for designated forest land. However, in 2014 it was reduced to five acres. A separate but similar program, the “open space timber designation”, was available to landowners with five or more acres. The law was changed to streamline and simplify things by not having two separate programs.

Counties aren’t required to eliminate the open space timber program designation, but they’re given the option to do so. Many counties are currently doing this, so you may receive a notice from the county assessor that your land is being transferred from open space timber to designated forest land. This doesn’t change your tax benefit or otherwise have negative impacts, so if you receive this notice, don’t be concerned.