Deer Habitat Management for Wildlife Tax Benefits in Texas

An important part of white-tailed deer management is maintaining good habitat for deer. This can be accomplished through a variety of land and herd management practices. However, many landowners do not realized that actively managing for wildlife also brings not only wildlife but tax benefits as well. In the early 1990’s, Texas voters approved the Wildlife Tax Valuation. This valuation can be applied to a property that has an agricultural tax “exemption” if the land is being used to manage for native wildlife species.

This wildlife tax valuation means that landowners in Texas can manage for native plants and animals without normal ag operations and maintain a very low tax rate on their property. It allows many property owners to once again enjoy their land. Active habitat management is a necessity, so the wildlife tax valuation is not for everyone. Landowners that are primarily interested in whitetail management and hunting benefit greatly from this law since livestock and deer do compete for native forage.

The key is that landowners complete at least 3 out of a possible 7 management practice on an annual basis. The 7 major practices include Habitat Control, Erosion Control, Predator Control, Providing Supplemental Supplies of Water, Providing Supplemental Supplies of Food, Providing Supplemental Shelter and Making Census Counts. Five of these practices can directly benefit white-tailed deer.

Habitat Control

This can include a variety of practices that are beneficial for deer habitat. Under this practice, some of the activities that qualify landowners for a wildlife tax valuation include brush control/management, prescribed fire and the re-seeding of native grasses and forbs. This practice can also include white-tailed deer hunting and the reduction in exotic ungulates as well. This practice includes just about any practice that improves native plant communities.

Predator Control

The first thing that comes to mind here is the trapping and shooting of coyotes, but also includes the removal of other predator populations, which will also be of benefit to deer and other wildlife on a property. For whitetail management, the removal of feral hogs is also a good option, as well as the trapping of raccoons and other mid-sized mammals. While feral hogs compete with deer for native foods and space, mid-sized mammals such as raccoons can consume supplemental feed, also an approved activity for a wildlife “exemption,” intended for deer.

Supplemental Water

This practice can be very important for some properties, especially those located in western portions of the state. Of course, any property lacking water will not be a huge draw for whitetail. They need at least one-half gallon of good water every day, so providing supplemental water will help them as well as other native wildlife species. For the tax valuation, additional water can be provided by modifying existing livestock troughs, adding new troughs that are wildlife friendly or installing rainwater collection systems, guzzlers.

Supplemental Food

Good nutrition is fundamental for producing quality deer. Landowners that provide supplemental feed for deer can at least knock out one of the three necessary practices for a wildlife management valuation right off the bat. The important numbers for this practice are that at least one percent of the property must be planted in both warm and cool season food plots OR there must be at least one free-choice feeder (filled with 16 percent protein) per 320 acres. Many folks are probably already planting plots for optimal body condition and antler production. It helps does and fawn numbers, too.

Census Counts

It’s almost impossible to manage a deer population without conduction some type of survey on an annual basis. Although landowners maintaining their land in a wildlife tax valuation can survey just about any wildlife, game or non-game, property owners interested in deer can conduct spotlight surveys, stand counts and even camera surveys. This is also a form of habitat management since maintaining deer at or below the carrying capacity of the habitat found on a property is critical to habitat and herd health.

Wildlife Management for Better Deer, Steady Tax Rate

In short, the wildlife management use is a great way for Texas landowners primarily interested in white-tailed deer to maintain an ag tax valuation without meeting the livestock stocking requirements set forth by county appraisal districts. It often makes sense to have livestock, especially cows, since they are a good habitat management tool themselves. But often the required stocking rates set by appraisal districts is counterproductive for deer management programs. A wildlife valuation can increase property healthy, enhance whitetail deer hunting and maintain a low tax rate. The valuation helps promote native plants and animals, which was its intent when it was passed.

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