Owning rural land in Texas can be an expensive endeavor, especially if the landowner is paying market value property taxes on their rural land. This occurs when landowners purchase a new property or inherit a property that doesn’t have an Agricultural (“Ag”) or Wildlife Management (“Wildlife Exemption”) property tax valuation. Many landowners would like to move their property into Wildlife Management, but they don’t want to fence and graze their property for the five years required by law to attain a Wildlife Management valuation. With Texas EcoLab, now there’s an alternative. By participating in this unique program, you could start saving up to 98% on your property taxes as early as 2017, AND transition to Wildlife in just two years without the typical 5 years of grazing or fencing cattle.
What is Texas EcoLab?
For landowners who aren’t interested using their property for agriculture, they have the option to host qualified researchers from universities on their property to carry out confidential research on the ecology of their land, and in return, qualify for a special valuation called an Ecological Laboratory (“Ecolab”). Since 2004, our firm has successfully worked with over 100 Texas landowners in 19 appraisal districts to qualify their properties for an Ecolab.
Running the numbers on Texas EcoLab
Typically, we work with landowners that own over 50 acres and match them with researchers who are interested in doing research on private property. In the Ecolab program, a landowner’s taxes will be reduced to about $2.00/acre in the first year of the program and they can convert to wildlife management after hosting two years of research on their property. Compare this to an agricultural valuation in which the landowner grazes their property for five years, while continuing to pay market value taxes on the property. Under an agricultural valuation, the landowner can’t qualify for a reduction in taxes until year six. On average, a landowner participating in the Ecolab program can see a return on their investment in just over 2 years, a time frame that stands in considerable contrast to the average 10 year return on investment for those who utilize Ag for property tax savings.
How do I know if my land qualifies for an EcoLab?
In order to qualify for the program, a property must be principally used for research by a college or university and the landowner commits to funding and accommodating the research projects for a two year period. Recent studies have included insect collection and analysis, studies of small mammals, lizards, birds and studies of meadow grasses and preservation and enhancement of native grasses. Landowners will receive research proposals for their property and have the opportunity to review the proposals and decide which research to host and fund. Currently, we are working with eight different colleges and universities which include the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A & M University and Trinity University.
Braun & Gresham provides all the necessary services to establish and manage an EcoLab on a property:
- Evaluate a property to determine the ecological studies and restoration that would be appropriate.
- Identify specific, high-qualified research scientists who have the capability and interest for doing ecological studies and restoration on the property.
- Negotiate and draft an agreement between a landowner and each researcher’s university that establishes the terms for use of the land.
- Coordinate and manage all activities of the researchers, including evaluating research proposals, obtaining liability waivers, logistical coordination, and reporting to the appraisal district.
- Apply to the appraisal district for appraisal of the land as an Ecological Laboratory.
We are currently considering new properties for 2017 and the deadline to be accepted is June 30, 2016. If you are interested in learning more about the program, please give Kameron Bain a call at 512-894-3479.