Unexpected co-benefits: Forest connectivity and property tax incentives

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Forest property tax incentives were developed in the early 1900s to enhance onsite forest management and ensure predictable timber supplies, but their ongoing contributions to landscape connectivity between public and private forests are not well understood. We measured spatial connectivity between public forests and private forests enrolled in forest tax programs. We also analyzed tax program laws and agency policies to determine whether the design or implementation of the programs considered connections to public lands.We focused on one of the largest forest tax incentive programs in the United States: Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law and Forest Crop Law, which enrolled 1.1 million ha of the state’s privately owned forests.We quantified patch density,mean patch size, and area-weighted mean patch size of enrolled forests in three ecologically distinct regions. A neutral landscape model analysis showed that actual enrollments were more likely to cluster near public lands than enrollments randomly distributed
across the forested landscape. Yet the tax programs’ statutes and policies revealed no consideration of public lands in the programs’ planning or implementation. Although they area voluntary,untargeted policy tool, forest tax programs provide the unintended but important benefit of connectivity with public lands.If states and stakeholders recognize forest taxprograms as a means to achieve landscape planning goals, they could coordinate cross-boundary management efforts and target areas of particular conservation interest. Forest tax programs deserve greater attention as a private land conservation strategy.

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