Property Tax Benefits – Wildlife Management Valuations on Texas Farm, Ranch, and Hunting Properties

In Texas most property is typically taxed based on its fair market value. However, one exception to that rule is land that is in some type of agricultural production. Most people commonly refer to this as an agricultural “exemption”. In actuality the property is not “exempt” from property tax and an agricultural valuation is the more appropriate terminology. Where agricultural production is the primary use of a property, the property is appraised on a productivity value as opposed to a fair market value. The resulting difference in valuation is a property appraisal averaging 75 to 90 percent lower than the fair market value.

According to the Texas Comptroller over 144 million acres of land in Texas is currently appraised as agricultural land. Prior to 1995, lands devoted primarily to wildlife management were excluded from this favorable property tax benefit. This resulted in forcing many landowners whose primary occupation and source of income was not agriculture to implement agricultural practices that were not always best for the natural resources in order to maintain their agricultural valuation. One common problem involved the overstocking of cattle on lands that could not support them. This was a result of minimum stocking rates required to maintain a viable livestock operation mandated by the appraisal districts in order to maintain a properties agricultural designation.

In 1995 the people of Texas voted and overwhelmingly approved Proposition 11. This amendment as authorized by Section 1-d-1 of the Texas Constitution expanded the agricultural valuation to include wildlife management. This change in the property appraisal code allows landowners to re-designate their properties primary use from agricultural production to wildlife management use, while maintaining the property tax benefits of an agricultural appraisal. This change was due in large part to growing trends in landownership towards recreational hunting lands and wildlife management combined with depressed agricultural commodity prices.

However, in order to keep this legislation revenue neutral, only lands that otherwise qualify for agricultural appraisal are eligible for the designation of wildlife management as the primary land use. Qualified agricultural land is defined in Section 23.51(1) of the tax code as: Land that is currently and principally devoted to agricultural use to the degree of intensity typical for the area and has been used for agriculture or timber for at least five of the preceding seven years.

The requirements for recreational hunting properties to qualify for the wildlife management valuation require: (1) that wildlife management be the primary use of the land and that all secondary uses be compatible with the primary use; (2) the degree of intensity of management be typical of the area; (3) management practices be sufficient to encourage long-term maintenance of indigenous breeding, migrating, or wintering populations; and (4) wildlife be propagated for human use – including recreation or the property owner’s passive enjoyment in owning the land and managing it for wildlife.

To further qualify for the wildlife management valuation, lands must be annually managed in a least three of the following seven ways: (1) habitat management; (2) erosion control; (3) predator control; (4) providing supplemental supplies of water; (5) providing supplemental supplies of food; (6) providing shelters; and (7) making census counts to determine populations.

These requirements are obviously broad, and subject to a certain degree of interpretation. Specific standards for meeting these qualifications are set at the local level by the Chief Tax Appraiser of the county appraisal districts. A wildlife management plan specific to the property where the wildlife management valuation designation pertains must be submitted to the appraisal district where the land is located. The management plan must include at a minimum the following information: (1) ownership information, property description, and current land use; (2) the landowners goals and objectives for the land; (3) the specific indigenous wildlife species targeted for management; and (4) the specific management practices and activities to be implemented in support of the specific indigenous wildlife species targeted for management.

Enlisting the services of a professional in wildlife habitat management can help you develop and implement a wildlife management plan tailored to your goals and objectives while at the same time fulfilling the wildlife management valuation requirements. If the property taxes on your current or future recreational hunting property are assessed utilizing the agricultural valuation, consider re-designating its primary use to wildlife management. You can receive the exact same property tax benefits without having to implement agricultural practices that may not be conducive to your long-term goals and objectives or the natural resources on your property.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.