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The Classified Forest program is specifically designed to help keep Indiana's private forests intact. It allows landowners with at least 10 acres of forest to set it aside and to remain as forest. In return for meeting program guidelines landowners receive property tax breaks, forestry literature and periodic free inspections by a professional forester while the forest is enrolled in the program.
The Indiana Classified Forest program is one of the most successful and longest running forest stewardship programs in the United States. Currently over 8,300 pieces of property, covering nearly 410,000 acres, are enrolled in this voluntary set aside program. And, the program is growing in excess of 10,000 acres per year.
The main objectives of the program, as directed by the Classified Forest Act, are to encourage the retention and stewardship of Indiana's private forest land for a variety of benefits which only a forest can provide. For further information or to enter your forest in the Classified Forest program contact your District Forester.
What are classified forests?
They are areas of 10 acres or more, supporting a growth of native or planted trees, which have been set aside for the production of timber and wildlife, the protection of watersheds, or the control of soil erosion. Lands designated as such by the state forester are eligible for assessment at $1.00 per acre and taxes are paid on that assessment.
Both native timber land and land planted to an acceptable species of trees are eligible for classification. Seedling trees for the reforestation of open areas can be obtained from your state nurseries.
The owner of classified forest land does not relinquish ownership or control of his property and Division of Forestry does not not become connected in any way with the ownership of the land. The Division of Forestry is interested in seeing that the land is protected from fire, grazing and destructive harvest practices and in assisting the woodland owner in obtaining the multiple benefits of a healthy forest.
Classified Forests Cannot be Pastured or Burned
A Classified forest must be protected against domestic livestock. Classified forest owners are also asked to protect their woodland from fire to the best of their ability.
Management of Classified Forest Land
The Classified Forest Act requires the classified forest owner to follow minimum standards of good timber management as prescribed by the Department of Natural Resources, and follow a written management plan that is approved by the district forester. The plan must be approved by a professional forester in consultation with and signed by the owner. In addition, it must adequately describe the present condition of the forest, prescribe a plan of action that will meet the objectives of the owner and the classified forest land program. The forest plan may be revised periodically to meet changing landowner objectives and forest conditions.
Other Qualifications for Classified Forests
Classified forests must be posted with signs, which are supplied by the Division of Forestry. These attractive signs identify the area as Classified Forest and as private property. The act requires that an annual report be made by the state forester on the condition of each classified forest. These reports provide valuable information regarding the progress of forestry in the state, help to focus attention upon current forestry in the state, help to focus attention upon current forestry problems, advise the Division of Forestry of changes in ownership and serve many other useful purposes. The report also gives the woodland owner an opportunity to ask for assistance with forestry problems. A report form, along with a newsletter, is sent to each classified forest owner once a year.
How to Enter Land Under the Law
The first step is to contact your local district forester. He/she will explain the program and inspect your woodland to determine if it qualifies. Your objectives will be discussed with you and several management strategies will be suggested. If you qualify, the application process and the Application for Classification Form will be explained in detail.
How to Withdraw Land From Entry Under the Law
Part or all of the classified forest can be withdrawn from classification at any time by completing and recording the withdrawal forms provided by the district forester upon request. It should be pointed out, however, that the law contains provisions which make it difficult for any person to use this program for saving taxes on speculative wooded real estate ventures. When a part of classified forest is withdrawn, the remaining area must be a minimum of ten (10) acres. If it is less than this, the whole tract must be withdrawn. The state forester may also withdraw the land from classification if the requirements of the law are not being met.
When withdrawing land from classification, the owner must go to the county assessor and have the assessor complete a report on the real property taxes that would have been paid had the property not been classified. The tax difference between those paid while classified versus those which might have been paid while non-classified, plus a ten (10) percent interest charge is paid by the owner for land being withdrawn. Under no circumstances can taxes be collected for more than the past ten (10) years.
Does the land have to be fenced?
Answer: Yes, if a fence is necessary to exclude livestock. Otherwise, no.
How long does the land remain in classification?
Answer: Until withdrawn by an owner.
How does a sale or inheritance of land affect a classified forest?
Answer: The land remains under classification unless the new owner legally withdraws it.
How are minerals such as oil, coal and gas assessed on classified lands, and how do they affect the land?
Answer: Minerals are assessed separately and do not affect the classification status unless their removal destroys the woodland cover on the ground.
What is the purpose of the annual report?
Answer: First, to focus the interest of the owner and the foresters on the health and management of the woods, and second, to permit the owner to request forestry assistance necessary to good forest management and the interest of the owner.
Does the landowner have to obtain permission from the Division of Forestry if he wants to cut or sell some timber?
Answer: No, but the owner is required to notify the district forester within 60 days after a sale of timber has been made. It is also the owner's responsibility not to over cut the forest to the point that it no longer contains enough good trees to meet the program requirements. Harvest roads, trails, stream crossings and log yards should be stabilized to minimize soil erosion. General guidelines on harvesting are available from your district forester. The owner can get technical assistance in marking and marketing timber through either the district forester or a privately-employed professional forester. A directory of private professional foresters is available.
Do I have to harvest timber?
Answer: No. However, proper timber harvesting is often very beneficial in maintaining and improving overall forest health. The key is "proper" harvesting. If you decide to sell or harvest timber, contact your forester for advice.
Do open areas have to be planted before the land is entered under law?
Answer: Yes, open areas of more than one acre must be planted to an acceptable species of trees.
Are Christmas tree plantations eligible for classification under the law?
Answer: No. Christmas tree plantations are not acceptable as classified forest land.
Can the land owner secure technical advice from the Division of Forestry on utilization problems?
Answer: Yes, the Division of Forestry welcomes opportunities to assist landowners with the utilization of homegrown timber on the farm. The annual report provides a means of asking for such assistance.
Can I manage my land for wildlife instead of timber?
Answer: Yes, as long as you do not clear the land or destroy the forest's productivity. Fortunately, most wildlife management practices are compatible with good timber management and vice-versa.
Please contact your local District Forester if you have additional questions.