Reviewing Site Productivity Classifications for Forest Property Taxes: A Case Study

Statewide, we timberland owners have just gone through new forest property tax law changes. (Presumably, all forestland owners either applied for the Small Tract Option or determined to stay with the Forestland Program.) The process, including the Forest Tax Training sessions offered 12/03-03/04 through OSU Extension, alerted me to issues related to DOR (Dept. of Revenue) assigned forestland classes (also known as site class and forest class) for our timberlands.

Believing the classes assigned to our properties were inconsistent in some cases with our actual site productivity, I was compelled to have a DOR review of assigned classes. This resulted in having some of our classifications revised, thus lowering our tax assessments. Perhaps other woodland owners face similar issues. As described below, I not only learned more about how forestland classes are assigned, but also about things that are NOT factored into the classifications.

Helpful authorities, with responsibilities in this regard, are the Douglas County Assessor’s Office (tel. 541-440-4222) and the OR Department of Revenue, Property Tax Division, Timber Unit (tel. 503-945-8668). Starting points in my review of classes were the DOR table, Forestland Classes and Site Value Chart, and information from the Assessor’s office about particular classes assigned to our properties.

Since classes are assigned based on inherent site productivity, the USDA NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) Roseburg Farm Services Office (tel. 541-673-6071), Soils Maps are also needed for reference. (As far as I can tell, site indices in Douglas County are confusingly based either on 100 or 50 year tables; it was helpful for me when DOR specified that the 50 year table was used for our properties.)

Factors considered for determining site index include soils, topography, site index trees and associated plant species. The illustrated manual, Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws, available through OSU Extension, contains an appendix helpful for determining site class.

Believing that the actual productivity for several of our sites is lower than the DOR-assigned productivity class (therefore, we were being over-assessed), I requested from DOR a “review of DOR Forest Classes assigned to our properties.” Consequently, a DOR forester made a site review visit, which resulted in several revisions in site classes.

On several of our sites, it simply became apparent, with more detailed review, that productivity was lower than previously assigned. A partial explanation for such discrepancy, I believe, is that there is a potential systematic classification process error in cases where landowners have moved into less traditional and productive forestlands (for example by afforesting former pasture lands). The potential classification error occurs when a classifier assigns a site class from an adjacent (and possibly more productive) timber site.

We also have several acres under a power easement which were reclassified from the productivity class of adjacent usable forestland to a non-productive class.

In two instances, I (understandably, for the most part!) note that DOR policy does not appear to permit site classification to reflect the current and usable productivity:

  1. Degraded forestland. Like us, I am pretty sure other small woodland owners possess units with actual current productivity that has been non-permanently degraded below the site’s inherent productivity, caused by historical management practices (e.g., high-graded stands, overstocked stands, or stands with soils compacted for various reasons). I understand that site classification cannot reflect such non-permanent degradation, even while we know that the management practices that contributed to the productivity degradation were consistent with accepted forest practices policies at the time. No real choice is left but to pay the assessment for higher potential productivity and plan for the opportunity at the next rotation to perhaps mitigate previous degradation.
  2. Riparian protection areas. One of our small woodland properties is approximately 30% within a riparian protection area. Site class for riparian protection areas is based on potential timber productivity, without regards to Forest Practices Act restrictions on harvest.

With our new property tax bills coming fairly soon, I anticipate the bills will be a bit lower because of our forestland site classification revisions... not to mention just the principle of it! Lastly, perhaps these observations from personal experience might prove helpful to other family forestland owners.

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