Tom Martin is the President and CEO of AFF.
You’ve been hearing a lot about “the fiscal cliff” these days.
Today, the Washington Post illustrated estimated tax increases with their “Fiscal Cliff Calculator”. At American Forest Foundation (AFF), we’re looking at our own tax calculator with family forest owners in mind.
This week AFF released “The Impact of Estate Taxes on Forest Stewardship”, a preliminary report on the impact of estate taxes on family forest owners. Tangled up in this debate about “tax cuts for the wealthy” is the estate tax that could put millions of acres of America’s forestland at risk.
There’s certainly a lot of rhetoric flying around Washington about impending tax increases if Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year. Here are some numbers Congressional leaders and President Obama need to keep in mind:
- Families, not the federal government, own the most forestland in America (251 million acres).
- 52 million acres of forests in America are owned by someone 75 years or older; 150 million by someone 55 years or older.
- 82% of family forest owners make less than $100,000 a year.
- 25% of America’s fresh water comes from private forests, and 60% of America’s imperiled wildlife depend on private forests for habitat.
- Every acre of private forestland supports an average of 8 good paying rural jobs.
Premature harvesting and selling forestland is a common outcome when heirs are saddled with huge estate tax bills they cannot pay. In “The Impact of Estate Taxes on Forest Stewardship”, you’ll learn about forest owners like Elizabeth Marshall Maybee. Maybee, a school teacher in Northern California, inherited 3,000 acres of land from her grandmother–along with a $2 million estate tax bill. Selling parcels was her only option for paying off the bill.
Every day, the affordability of sustainably managing forestland in America becomes harder and harder. That’s why the federal government must do all it can to remove barriers to family ownership, instead of making it even harder for families to keep their forests intact.
AFF is advocating for estate tax
relief for family woodland owners who agree to manage their land to high levels
of sustainability to protect forests from this threat.
Let your representative know that if they care about forests in America, they need to at a minimum, maintain the current estate tax rates and support the other solutions in the Keep the Forest and the Farm in the Family Act, which has been endorsed by 57 other organizations—including conservation groups, industry groups, and farm groups [PDF]. All Americans need to know that the estate tax is not just about the 1 percent. It’s a forest conservation issue that could impact millions of acres of forestland if Congress doesn’t act.