Timber Harvesting Restrictions

Timber Harvesting Restrictions: Small Tracts w/o Agricultural Classification (12/14/09)

Do you have a small tract of timberland, i.e., 5-20 acres, not under Agricultural Classification?  Are you planning to harvest timber at some time?  Have you declined filing for an Agricultural Classification because you were under the impression it would not qualify or because you did not have a management plan or want to invest in one?  If you plan to harvest timber at some time for income, pay taxes, etc, we strongly recommend you apply for the Agricultural Classification, get a management plan, and get the property qualified for the Agricultural Classification if it is not currently qualified.

Some Florida counties have implemented local environmental rules, regulations, or restrictions on harvesting timber on properties which do not have an Agricultural Classification.  Properties with Agricultural Classification are usually exempt from the restrictions, at least to a large degree.  We expect to see more counties adopting this course, although the County Property Appraisers have nothing to do with the regulations.  If you do not have an Agricultural Classification, especially on small parcels, you may not be allowed to harvest timber or may have to jump through several expensive hoops:  get permits, hire an attorney, hire consultants, deal with stonewalling, etc.

We recently had a client with less than 20 acres of unmanaged timberland with a very marginal stand.  The property is located near an urban area, but not inside city limits.  The property once had an Agricultural Classification, but lost it fifteen years ago through failure to renew following inheritance.  The owners wanted to harvest some of the timber to pay property taxes.  After going through six county employees, three county agencies, and spending three hours on the phone, we finally got an e-mail response from the county’s environmental regulations division.  First, we would need an Environmental Management Permit (exemption permit—that part we knew.)  We were also advised a Low Impact Environmental Management Permit might be required.  Additionally, an unaltered natural state perimeter buffer is required.  The property is rolling uplands, contained no wet areas, wetlands vegetation, sinkholes, or ponds, but did contain a lower area at the bottom of a hill with a house nearby.  We were told this was a possible sinkhole, according to their GIS.  If it is a sinkhole, a vegetative management plan is required for protection.  If it is not a sinkhole, a geotechnical study (engineer) is required to make the determination it is not a sinkhole.  We advised the landowner the cost of the permits, the study or plan, possibly an attorney, and the consulting fees would likely be greater than the income from a harvest.  We advised the landowner to implement some management recommendations and apply for an Agricultural Classification.