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Prior to the settlement days, Indiana held almost 20 million acres of forestland. Today, less than 10% of these original forests remain. Thankfully leaders of the past had the insight to establish a program that would protect our forestland.
The Indiana Forest Classification Act
In 1790, Indiana was 86% forested; by 1890 only 7% remained. For many years, early settlers worked to clear the land for homes, farms and businesses. Though their hard work helped build our cities and towns, the decline of forestland raised concerns. The continued loss of forests - as well as loss of soil due to erosion and disruption of wildlife habitat - prompted the state to establish the State Board of Forestry in 1901. The board provided the state with information on forestry and established state forest reserves, today's State Forests.
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Indiana's First State Forester, Charles C. Deam, felt that more needed to be done. Deam and others campaigned about the importance of curtailing future forest acreage loss by pressing legislature to pass the Forest Classification Act in 1921 and succeeded.
Out of the Forest Classification Act, the Classified Forest Program was created. This program encouraged private landowners to keep their areas wooded, utilize better land management practices and provide their forested areas protection from livestock and fire. The incentive? The landowner would get a property tax break (~90%) on their forested acreage.
The 1921 Forest Classification Act also benefits Indiana citizens by protecting over 618,000 acres of forests and wildlands. These acres not only provide the state with local wood products but assists in cleaner air, cleaner water, more wildlife habitat and the beauty that only our natural communities can offer.
Classified Forest & Wildlands Program
The Forest Classification Act has been amended many times throughout the years. Some changes include:
- In 1921 the minimum acreage allowed into the program was three; today that minimum is ten acres.
- In the beginning, the property owner had three years to plant open areas; since 1967, open areas must be planted before classification.
- When there once was no inspection period, they are now required every five years.
- Penalties have also changed; today the penalty for withdrawal is back taxes for no more than ten years (plus 0% interest penalty) and the old fine, the Unearned Increment Tax, has since been abolished.
In 2006, an amendment combining the Classified Forest Program and Classified Wildlife Habitat Program created the Classified Forest & Wildlands Program. According to DNR - Forestry, the program's objectives are to "encourage better woodland and wildlife stewardship, and protection of Indiana watersheds." Participating landowners still receive significant property tax reductions, regular inspections by a professional forester, the opportunity to "green" certify any forest products and DNR forest and wildlife management advice and assistance as long at their forests remain classified.
How to Classify your Forests
If interested in having your forestland classified, first contact the district forester servicing your county and let them know of your plans. An inspection will be planned to determine whether the land meets the Classified Forest & Wildlands Program's requirements. Once deemed eligible, the landowner will be asked to have a written stewardship plan that explains all goals for the forest and how he/she will obtain these goals. The plan is flexible and can change over time, but must be completed before the Classified Forest application is sent. The district forester will assist you in this as well as the rest of the program's registration.