This webpage is designed for forest landowners, foresters, municipal officials, and real estate professionals to develop an understanding of Maine’s Tree Growth Tax Law program. Click on the links below to jump to each section

Introduction - Purpose of this Guide  - Considerations for Landowners - Program Overview - Frequently Asked Questions - Resource Links  - Appendix

Introduction

Maine is the most forested state in the country, with an estimated 17.6 million acres of forested land making up 89% of the state’s land. Much of the state’s woods are privately owned, and all but two million acres are working forests ranging in size from 10-acre family-owned parcels to hundreds of thousand acres of industrial forest.

In 1972 the Maine Legislature enacted the Tree Growth Tax Law (TGTL) to help Maine landowners maintain their property as productive forestlands and to broadly support Maine’s forest products industry. The statute, 36 M.R.S. §§ 571 – 584-A, created the Tree Growth Tax Law (TGTL) program, one of Maine’s “current use” land programs. Current use programs offer the property owner a reduction in assessed value by establishing a valuation of the property at its current use rather than at market value. The TGTL program values classified forest land based on its productivity value.

Jump to a section: Introduction - Purpose of this Guide  - Considerations for Landowners - Program Overview - Frequently Asked Questions - Resource Links  - Appendix

Purpose of this Guide

TGTL is complex and is often misinterpreted. This guide aims to provide information and clarity about the TGTL program and is designed for the following:

  • Landowners with at least 10 acres of forestland in Maine who are determining if enrolling in the TGTL is appropriate for their land and what the law requires.
  • Consulting Foresters advising clients who are considering enrolling in TGTL or are recertifying their enrolled properties.
  • Municipal Tax Assessors who are tasked with enrolling properties in TGTL and tracking compliance.
  • Real Estate Professionals advising buyers and sellers of forested properties enrolled in TGTL.
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TGTL Program Considerations for Landowners

The TGTL program promotes stable long-term forest ownership and management for forest products. To qualify for participation in the TGTL program, owners must manage their land for forest products. To understand which activities are considered allowable forest products, see Appendix J: Glossary in the section called Forest products that have commercial value. Enrolling their properties into the TGTL program, forest landowners are taxed for land according to its value for wood production and not for potential development. This tax rate makes it more affordable to continue owning and managing forests.

Deciding if the TGTL Program is a Good Fit

The TGTL program isn’t a good fit for all woodland owners. Here are some questions to consider when deciding to enroll in the program:

  1. Do you have at least 10 contiguous acres of forest and do you plan to keep at least 10 acres of it undeveloped?
  2. Do you want and intend to manage your land for forest products?
  3. Are you aware that land enrolled in the TGTL program is permanently classified as such unless a penalty is paid upon withdrawal?
  4. Are you willing to hire a forester to prepare and sign off on your forest management plan?
  5. Are you willing to follow your forest management plan and keep it up-to-date at all times?

If you said “yes” to all the above questions you may want to consider the TGTL program and should continue reading this guide.

If you answered “no” to any of these questions but would like to find a way to reduce your property taxes, you may want to learn more about other current use tax programs. Information can be found at the Maine Revenue Services webpage by visiting www.maine.gov/revenue and typing Current Land Use in the search box. Additionally, see Appendix B: “Bulletin 20: Farmland Tax Law” and Appendix C: “Bulletin 21: Open Space Tax Law.”

Financial Considerations of Enrolling in the TGTL Program

Land enrolled in the TGTL program receives property tax savings based on location and can be substantial in areas where real estate is valuable. For property tax purposes, land in the TGTL program is valued on its use as forest and without a development value. The tradeoff for that benefit is that landowners must comply with the program’s requirements and that the land’s TGTL classification is permanent until withdrawn or transferred to another current use tax program.

Once enrolled, there are substantial penalties for taking land out of the program or non-compliance. The fines are purposely high to keep people in the program, and it is common for the penalty to be many times higher than the total reduction in taxes the landowner receives. See Appendix F: TGTP Guide Penalties for Withdrawal.

If the owner fails to comply with the statute (or transfers the parcel to open space classification), there will be a supplemental assessment of $500. That continued noncompliance will lead to a subsequent supplemental assessment of $500.

Jump to a section: Introduction - Purpose of this Guide  - Considerations for Landowners - Program Overview - Frequently Asked Questions - Resource Links  - Appendix

Overview of the TGTL Program

The TGTL program is administered by the tax assessors for municipalities in which an enrolled property resides (for unorganized areas of the state, the state tax assessor administers the program). Assessors are responsible for keeping track of the TGTL schedules for all enrolled properties and have full authority to determine whether the land meets the requirements to enroll in the TGTL within the standards set in the statute. Because TGTL requires that enrolled land must stay undeveloped, the result is a lower valuation of that land.

Requirements for Landowners Enrolled in the TGTL Program:

To qualify for the TGTL program, landowners must have the following:

  • At least 10 forested acres classified as undeveloped with the primary management objective of growing trees for commercial use according to accepted forestry practices (see Appendix J: Glossary for the statutory definition of forest products that have commercial value)
  • An up-to-date written forest management plan that meets statutory standards and is prepared and/or certified by a forester licensed to practice in Maine. (See Appendix E: Tree Growth Tax Law Forest Management and Harvest Plan Review Checklist)

To apply for enrollment into the TGTL program, landowners must submit to the tax assessor of the municipality in which the land resides:

  • A completed “Application for Tree Growth Tax Law Program” form (see Appendix D: Application for Tree Growth Tax Law Program or visit www.maine.gov/revenue, type in Tree Growth Application.) This serves as the landowner’s attestation and evidence of compliance with the forest management and harvest plan, including the forester’s sworn statement.
  • A copy of a land classification map for the parcel (See Appendix I. Sample Land Classification Map)

TGTL Recertification

To stay enrolled in the TGTL program, landowners must recertify every ten years using a deadline established at the time of the initial TGTL program enrollment. It is recommended that landowners who do not know their TGTL program re-enrollment date contact their assessor to confirm this information.

To recertify, a landowner must complete and submit an “Application for Tree Growth Tax Law Program” form to the assessor(s) of the jurisdiction with a signature of a forester licensed to practice in Maine. A landowner must have a current management plan when they submit their application for TGTL program recertification.

Notification of Compliance

Prompt recertification is the responsibility of the landowner and they must comply with any instructions the municipality communicates regarding their enrollment in the TGTL program. However, the assessor(s) must provide the landowner with written notice by certified mail no earlier than 185 days prior to a deadline established at the time of the initial enrollment if the landowner has not yet complied with the requirements to stay enrolled in the TGTL. The letter is to inform the landowner of the statutory requirements that need to be met to comply with the statute and the date of the deadline for compliance.

If the notice is issued less than 120 days before the deadline, the owner has 120 days from the date of the notice to provide the assessor with the documentation to achieve compliance with the statute or transfer the parcel to open space classification, and the notice must specify the date by which the owner must comply.

Determining a Parcel’s Eligibility and Compliance in the TGTL Program

When a landowner submits an application to enroll in the TGTL program, it is the assessor’s job to check the applicant’s eligibility. If the municipality has a question about the landowner’s compliance with the program, they have the right to request the assistance from the Maine Forest Service. The tax assessor can request information from the landowner at any time to clarify their compliance with the program. This includes requesting to see a copy of the parcel’s forest management plan; however, they cannot keep a copy of the Plan indefinitely as it is a confidential document. This document is not a public record and is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Role of a Licensed Forester

Professional foresters licensed in Maine are essential to ensuring that the TGTL works. For foresters to serve as a primary professional resource, they need to be sure to understand the requirements a landowner must meet to be eligible for the TGTL program. Licensed foresters assisting landowners with enrolling in the TGTL program must also comply with a set of ethics and have an obligation to explain this program and its implications to clients before working with them to enroll (see questions asked in Section II to assist with this function). Additionally, to increase their understanding of the program and to stay informed of any changes to the program, foresters should consider attending a training offered by the Maine Forest Service (MFS).

Preparing a Forest Management Plan

Landowners who want to enroll in the TGTL program must have a forester licensed in Maine prepare a management plan for their parcel that meets the statutory requirements. A forest management plan is a roadmap for owners to use to achieve their objectives. To enroll in the TGTL, specific elements must be in the plan, including:

  • Clearly defined objectives
  • Timber type map
  • Inventory of resources (timber, wildlife, soil, water, etc.)
  • Recommendations for achieving objectives
  • A general timetable of activities

See Appendix E: “Tree Growth Tax Law Forest Management and Harvest Plan Review Checklist.” to learn more.

Funding for Forest Management Plans:

Financial incentive programs may be available to help pay for the cost of a plan through the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA/NRCS). Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov to learn more about available programs.

Selling and Buying Land Enrolled in the TGTL Program

Land that is enrolled in the TGTL program continues to be enrolled after it transfers to a new owner and the new owner is required to keep the property compliant with the law. If the current owner is selling land enrolled in the TGTL program, it is required that the box stating TGTL program enrollment in the disclosure documents is checked.

Things to know about buying land enrolled in the TGTL program:

  1. Confirm whether the land is enrolled in the TGTL program with the municipal office or, in the case of unorganized areas, state tax assessor with the Maine Revenue Service and ask to see the files. The files should contain property details, dates of qualification for the TGTL program, and a map.
  2. Land that has been transferred to a new owner must be recertified with the municipality or Maine Revenue Service within the first year of ownership. This includes completing and submitting a new TGTL program application and one of the following items: 
    • A sworn statement indicating that a new forest management and harvest plan has been prepared; or  
    • A statement from a licensed professional forester that the land is being managed in accordance with the plan prepared for the previous landowner.
  3. Ask the seller to supply a file with all the information they have related to the land’s TGTL program enrollment.

Withdrawal from the TGTL Program

Any enrolled land withdrawn from the TGTL program results in a penalty. Landowners are not subject to a penalty if they transfer the land into another current use tax program.

Any parcel that contains 10 acres or more of woodland that is compliant with the law may stay enrolled in the TGTL program while withdrawing the part that is not in compliance. A landowner may withdraw any amount of land enrolled within the TGTL program.  Landowners withdraw land from TGTL program for various reasons, including:

  • The owner inherited or purchased the land that is enrolled in the TGTL program and they aren’t willing or able to comply with what the program requires.
  • The owner’s family situation and the goals for some or all of the land has changed, and the owner is unable to comply with the TGTL program requirements for some or all of the land.
  • The land is no longer classified as forest often because it is developed.

For more information about penalties for withdrawal from Tree Growth Tax Law Program, see Appendix F: “TGTP Guide Penalties for Withdrawal.”

Rules about designating building lots in a shoreline area:

Often, converting forestland into a building lot is the reason for withdrawal from the TGTL program. Building lots on parcels zoned as a shoreline area requires a  minimum lot size that is greater than the local minimum lot size or one-half acre. It also must include the greater of 100 feet of shoreland frontage or the minimum shoreland frontage required by the local zoning ordinance. If the parcel that is designated as a building lot has less than 100 feet of shoreland frontage, the shoreland frontage on the entire parcel must be included in the withdrawal from the TGTL program. An exception applies for commercial structures where residential use is nonrecreational, temporary in duration, and purely incidental to the commercial use.

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Frequently Asked Questions

For Landowners

How are the taxes in the TGTL determined?

The State determines the value of forestland for land enrolled in the TGTL program each year

Every year, Maine Revenue Services (MRS) calculates TGTL valuations to estimate the value of land in long term timber production. Valuations are prepared on a regional basis using existing forest surveys to estimate average annual growth, and State surveys of stumpage prices to convert those into value growth. The estimates are done separately for softwood, mixed wood, and hardwood stands, so the valuation of a given property will depend on the mix of those types.

For more information about how MRS determines tax values for land enrolled in the TGTL program, visit www.maine.gov/revenue/publications/rules and click on Rule 202 Tree Growth Law Valuations.

Will TGTL enrollment affect my federal taxes?

Enrollment in the program will not directly affect your federal taxes, however, having an inventory and a management plan can be very advantageous for your federal tax position. Keeping records and seeking professional advice can also help with income recognition and tax deductibility of expenses.

Is my forest management plan filed somewhere?

Forest management plans are not public documents and therefore are not filed in any public office. It is a confidential document between a landowner and whoever developed the plan (forester). It must be made available upon request by the tax assessor for review but a copy of the plan cannot be retained on file beyond the review process. Note: always keep your forest management plan in a safe location that is easily found.

What should I do if I cannot find the forest management plan for my land?

If you do not have a copy of your land’s current forest management plan, contact the last certifying forester to see if they can send you the document. If you don’t know who the forester was, the tax assessor where the land is enrolled will have the name of the forester. If no plan is found, a new plan must be developed.

Why is a forester’s advice required?

Since a goal of the TGTL program is to support forest management and production, the legislature requires involvement of a professional forester to ensure that (a) lands eligible for the program are correctly identified, and (b) sound management practices will be followed in implementation.

How do I find a forester to help me meet TGTL requirements?

Maine Forest Service District Foresters are often a good first point of contact to discuss what to look for in a consulting forester and can provide a listing of approved vendors of cost-share programs and licensed foresters who work in a particular area. Many consulting foresters have websites and landowners should talk to several and check references before hiring. Foresters should have experience in the TGTL program and work with area loggers who have good reputations. Visit the Maine Forest Service website to find for more information: www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs.

Do I have to have a timber harvest to be in the TGTL program?

You must have a plan envisioning management of the land for commercial forest products. The plan needs to be based on basic information about the property, and a realistic schedule for sound forestry practices. If all your timber is very young, commercial forest products may not be possible in the first decade. But some precommercial thinning, pruning, or other things than cutting, such as wildlife practices, road/culvert improvements, brushing out lines, etc. can serve as part of your harvesting plan.

Do I have to produce commercial forest products every 10 years to stay compliant in the TGTL program?

No. There is no specific timetable. You should be following your Forest Management Plan and the requirements that are set in that document. See Appendix J: Glossary to find the definition of forest products that have commercial value to understand what types of products are considered acceptable to stay compliant in the TGTL program.

Is harvesting on land enrolled in the TGTL program regulated differently from other land?

Harvesting land that is enrolled in the TGTL program is not regulated differently.  The program does not dictate how land is harvested for commercial purposes as long as it is following the parcel’s management plan.

Does fuelwood for my personal use qualify as a “commercial product” since it is not being sold?

The official guidance is not specific on this question, but most foresters will consider this to be a qualifying activity if it is undertaken in ways that lead to sound improvement cuts, thinnings, cleanings, or sanitation cuts that would be prescribed for the stands in question.

Can I enroll my land in the TGTL program if I don’t live in the town where my land is located?

Yes.

If I don’t want to manage my woodlot for commercial forest products, is there another property tax relief program for me?

There are three other current use programs available in Maine: Farmland Tax Law, Open Space, and Working Waterfront. To learn more about these programs visit www.maine.gov/revenue and type in Current Land Use in the search box.

Do I have to put all my land in the TGTL program, or can I put only a portion?

To be in the TGTL program, a minimum of 10 contiguous forested acres must be enrolled. Acres beyond the 10 do not have to be enrolled. If you own multiple non-contiguous parcels you do not need to include them all.

My land is in multiple towns. How do I enroll them?

If you wish to enroll contiguous properties in different towns, separate applications must be made to each town. They don’t need two different Forest Management Plans.

Can my forest be enrolled in the TGTL program if it is used for other purposes?

The existence of multiple uses on an enrolled parcel does not render it ineligible for tax treatment under this subchapter if the enrolled parcel remains primarily used for the growth of trees to be harvested for commercial use. TGTL can accommodate other landowner uses like recreation or considerations like wildlife habitat or scenery.

For Foresters

What role does a licensed forester play in the TGTL program?

Landowners who want to enroll in the TGTL must have foresters, licensed in Maine, provide a few services to qualify: 

  • For the initial application, landowners must have an up-to-date forest management plan signed off by a forester licensed in Maine, that complies with the TGTL statute. 
  • After 10 years from the date of enrollment into the TGTL program, landowners are required to submit a new TGTL program enrollment application with a signature from a forester licensed in Maine certifying that the landowner  is complying with the plan.

What should a forester do if a forestland they have inspected is no longer qualified for the TGTL program?

A signature from a consulting forester is required as part of the application process for enrollment in the TGTL program. If a forester finds that forestland no longer qualifies for the TGTL program they cannot sign off on the landowner’s recertification application.

For Municipal Officials

How is land that is enrolled in the TGTL program valued?

The Maine Revenue Service (MRS) determines the 100% value per acre for each forest type by region each year. Municipal assessors are required to use the applicable value from MRS for each forest type’s municipality’s certified ratio. The MRS considers several factors in making their value determination including growth rates in the forest, and changes in market value of wood.

The Maine Forest Service regularly re-evaluates the value of forested land based on the timber market in the state. The values are determined by tree species and by county. The market value of the land usually does keep pace with the real estate market. Go to the webpage www.maine.gov/revenue/publications/rules, click on Rule 202 Tree Growth Law Valuations to learn more valuations under the Tree Growth Tax Law.

Is a municipality required to notify a landowner about recertifying their TGTL program enrollment?

Yes. If the landowner has not complied with the requirements to stay enrolled in the TGTL 185 days prior to a deadline established at the time of the initial enrollment, the assessor must provide the landowner with written notice by certified mail informing the landowner of the statutory requirements that need to be met to comply with the statute and the date of the deadline for compliance. 

Can a municipality prevent land that is qualified from enrolling into the TGTL?

No. Municipalities are legally required to ensure qualified land can enroll in the Tree Growth Tax Law Program.

How does a municipality receive its reimbursement for lost revenue through the Tree Growth Tax Law Program?

Municipalities submit an annual request for reimbursement with Maine Revenue Service.

Does the landowner’s residence have to be in the same municipality as the land that is enrolling in the TGTL?

No.

What should tax assessors do if they are having trouble determining that landowners are compliant?

Assessors should follow the guidance of the TGTL statute to determine compliance. Tax assessors in need of assistance with determining compliance of the TGTL should contact Maine Forest Service for assistance with forestry related questions and the Maine Revenue Service for tax related questions.

Maine Revenue Service is available to aid in interpreting tax law and the Maine Forest Service is available to assist municipalities in evaluating forest management plans and practice compliance with the plan.

What should an assessor do if they suspect a landowner is not complying with the requirements of the TGTL program?

If an assessor suspects that a landowner is out of compliance, the assessor may enter and examine the forest lands and may examine any information submitted by the owner or owners. A copy of the forest management and harvest plan must be available to the assessor to review upon request and to the Director of the Bureau of Forestry within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry or the director’s designee to review upon request when the assessor seeks assistance. Upon completion of the review, the plan must be returned to the owner or an agent of the owner. A forest management and harvest plan provided in accordance with this section is confidential and is not a public record.

Upon notice in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by another method that provides actual notice, any owner or owners shall appear before the assessor, at such reasonable time and place as the assessor may designate and answer questions or interrogatories the assessor considers necessary to obtain material information about those lands.

Jump to a section: Introduction - Purpose of this Guide  - Considerations for Landowners - Program Overview - Frequently Asked Questions - Resource Links  - Appendix

Resource Links

Jump to a section: Introduction - Purpose of this Guide  - Considerations for Landowners - Program Overview - Frequently Asked Questions - Resource Links  - Appendix

Appendix

Jump to a section: Introduction - Purpose of this Guide  - Considerations for Landowners - Program Overview - Frequently Asked Questions - Resource Links  - Appendix

Credits

Guide developed in collaboration with Maine TREE Foundation, Keeping Maine’s Forest and Maine Woodland Owners

Project Advisory Committee

Funding provided by Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Weyehaueser Giving Fund, Maine Forest Products Council, and others