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Should You Convert Your Land to Wildlife Valuation?

Is your agricultural exemption really working for you? Many landowners throughout Texas have found that maintaining their agricultural exemption can directly conflict with their reasons for owning property. Some of those landowners have found a better fit by converting to the wildlife management open spaces exemption, otherwise known as a wildlife exemption or wildlife valuation. It’s all the same. Under wildlife valuation, landowners can maintain their ag valuation tax rate while allowing you to focus on improving your property for wildlife.

Wildlife Valuation Background

Back in 1995 the voters of Texas voted 2-1 in favor of creating an open-space (agricultural) appraisal for land used to actively manage wildlife. The State Comptroller, with the assistance of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), and Texas AgriLife Services, was charged with creating the guidelines for qualifying lands for this tax rate. The original guidelines came out in 1996 and they were finalized in 2002.

The wildlife valuation program has been very successful in allowing rural landowners to diversify their income generating activities from livestock and row-crop management to include hunting leases, bird watching, fishing, and other nature-tourism related activities. It has allowed other landowners to invest their time and money in rehabilitating overworked land instead of continuing damaging practices to avoid residential or commercial taxes. It has the most beneficial to landowners whose property goals include the ative management of wildlife populations one their land.

Since its inception, the wildlife management open spaces exemption has been very popular with landowners. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department developed the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines. These information packets help guide landowners step by step through creating and implementing a Wildlife Management Plan that meets their objectives and addresses all State requirements. In addition, TPWD biologists and other natural resource specialists are availalbe assist landowners with questions on fine-tuning a management program to convert to the wildlife exemption.

Wildlife Valuation or Not?

Is converting your property to a wildlife management open spaces exemption right for you? A few simple questions should help you find out. First, what are your goals? If your ultimate goal involves raising cattle or crops you should probably stick with an agricultural exemption.

If you want to hunt, fish, simply enjoy nature, and manage for native wildlife and habitat on your property, read on. Second, what do you want your property to look like? If a city park comes to mind you can probably stop here. Wildlife management means encouraging those plants that benefit wildlife, such as native tallgrasses for nesting, brush for hiding, and oaks for food. Wildlife management is not about having a park-like stand (with no underbrush, no weeds) of trees on a ranch. 

Lastly, how hands-on are you? While many aspects of wildlife management can be accomplished and made easier from a tractor, you don’t necessarily need a tractor to get the job done. Regardless, the most important jobs usually have to be done by hand.

Legal Aspects of Wildlife Valuation

Only those properties that currently have an agricultural appraisal can convert to a wildlife management exemption. The majority of the property (minimum 92% of acreage) must be managed to sustain native animal populations. While the animals do not have to live on the property year-round, the area must be at least seasonally important to a group of animals.

If you meet all the criteria for a wildlife management exemption, you can develop your management plan and submit it to the County Appraisal District. All plans must include certain information about the property as described in the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines. The plan must include at least three management practices chosen from among seven general categories; habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental water, supplemental food, supplemental shelter, and conducting surveys to determine use by your target species.

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