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Purposeful Land Optimization: Improving the hunting options at your ranch (and how to do so in a tax advantaged way)

Whether it's the solitude of the wilderness or the thrill of the chase, hunting is a cherished pastime for many in North Texas. But what if this activity, combined with land optimization, could transform your ranch into a hunters’ paradise? Creating this perfect environment not only appreciates your land value but can also be done in a way that reduces what you pay in taxes on your ranch.


The 1-D-1 Open Space Agricultural Valuation - An overview

Drone photo of trees and a hay field

Each property within the State of Texas is subject to property taxes, also known as ad valorem taxes.  Since 1966, Texas has allowed agricultural land to be valued for taxes purposes based on the agricultural value of the land. Prior to 1966, the land was valued for tax purposes at market value. In 1978, Texas voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution for the stated purpose of promoting the preservation of open-spaced lands and in 1995, an amendment to Section 1-d-1 allowed open-spaced lands devoted to wildlife management purposes to be assessed for property taxes based on productive value. 


Qualifying for wildlife management

Picture of a pond from a rocky hill

According to the Texas Tax Code, wildlife management is defined as actively using the land through at least three of the seven wildlife management practices:

  • Habitat control

  • Erosion control

  • Predator control

  • Providing supplemental water

  • Providing supplemental food

  • Providing shelters

  • Conducting census counts

The purpose of these activities is to propagate a sustaining, breeding, migrating, or winter population of indigenous wild animals for human use. (Refer to Texas Parks and Wildlife Agricultural Tax Appraisal Based on Wildlife Management: Legal Summary of Wildlife Management Use Appraisal for more information). As a land owner, it is likely that you are already performing many of these activities on your own.


Texas Parks and Wildlife provides wildlife management planning guides and forms for seven (7) regions across the State:


The purpose of these guides is to assist landowners in preparing a wildlife management plan for tax purposes. It is important to remember that each plan is unique and can be tailored to your property. 


To qualify for agricultural appraisal based on wildlife management use, the property must:

  • be currently appraised as open-spaced land based on agricultural use; 

  • the primary use of the land must be wildlife management; 

  • the land must be actively managed through the implementation of a wildlife management plan to sustain a breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wildlife for human use, including food, medicine, or recreation;

  • the landowner must select and implement at least three of the wildlife management practices listed in Texas Tax Code §23.51(7)(A) (habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, providing supplemental food, providing shelters, or conducing census counts);

  • the wildlife management practices selected by the landowner must be implemented through wildlife management activities appropriate for the target indigenous wildlife species identified in the wildlife management plan and to the degree of intensity that is consistent with the Comptroller’s Guidelines for Qualification of Agricultural Land in Wildlife Management Use and TPWD’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines for the ecoregion in which the tract of land is located; 

  • meet the minimum acreage requirements if applicable. 34 TAC §9.2004(b).


Texas Parks and Wildlife provides two forms on their website. The first form is the initial wildlife management plan that is submitted to the county/counties in which your ranch is located. The second form is the annual report that is submitted to the county/counties in which your ranch is located. The wildlife management plan consists of the followings parts:

  • Owner information - basic information about you

  • Property description - basic information about your ranch

  • Special targeted for management - list the species that you are targeting on your ranch

  • Management plan goals and objectives - this is the what and how portion of wildlife management. The guides for your region are a helpful starting point. 

  • Qualifying wildlife management activities - There are seven options here, you must do at least three to qualify

  • White tail deer and mule deer population management - this section contains questions about the deer on your property and who is allowed to hunt

  • Wildlife management association membership - if you are a part of a wildlife management association, this section is applicable to you. You are not required to be a part of a wildlife management association to qualify

  • Wildlife activities - in this section you provide more details about the wildlife management activities you perform. Remember that at least 3 of the 7 sections must be completed


Remember that these forms are submitted to your county appraisal district in which your ranch resides, not to Texas Parks and Wildlife!


Conclusion

Turning your ranch into a hunters’ paradise through purposeful land optimization requires knowledge, careful planning, and execution. An understanding of state and county regulations, combined with managing the game populations wisely, can help you own and maintain your ranch in a tax-advantaged way. Happy hunting!


If you would like more information about the agricultural property tax conversion for wildlife management please visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife page - https://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/private/agricultural_land/

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