Ozaukee Washington Land Trust

Wetland Preservation Update

rsz enhanced hansen lake dec2012 kweberWisconsin’s property tax assessment rules were modified earlier this year in a way that promotes wetland restoration and preservation in agricultural landscapes.

Farmlands in Wisconsin are taxed at a preferred “use-value” rate in recognition of their importance to our culture and our economy, and to promote their continued availability and open-space features for current and future generations. With every passing storm we are reminded of the critical role of undeveloped landscapes and wetlands in absorbing and storing rainfall to minimize flooding, and in retaining nutrients and sediments in runoff before they reach our streams and lakes. Maintaining and improving these landscapes promotes healthier rivers and lakes. However, when farmers considered restoring wetlands they were faced with the prospect of a substantial increase in property taxes on those restored acres. The rules just didn’t make sense.

In recognition of the importance of both farmlands and wetlands, the revised state rules allow farmlands to retain their low tax rate status when restored to wetlands, provided that the restoration is performed to certain farm conservation standards and that the land is enrolled in federal or state easement programs to maintain the restored wetlands. For the moment, easements held by land trusts do not qualify under the revised rules. However, the land trust community is continuing its educational efforts to help lawmakers better understand the applicability of easements held by land trusts.

For more information on programs to restore wetlands on farmlands, contact your local county land and water conservation staff. The staff and website of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association are also great resources for anyone looking to learn more about this particular topic, or about wetlands in general. In addition, the 2015 Agricultural Assessment Guide for Wisconsin Property Owners (available at the Department of Revenue website) contains practical information on tax treatment for specific farmland preservation programs – including a summary table of conservation programs and their impact on real estate taxes.