The wildlife exemption is the most misunderstood valuation in Texas. First, it really is a valuation, or the rate at which a property is taxed. Many county appraisal districts do not realize the intention of the wildlife exemption or wildlife valuation or whatever you want to call it. No matter how you slice it, the widlife exemption is all about protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat in Texas.
One of the main goals of the wildlife exemption legislation is to protect animals that are native to Texas. This is a key component in converting land that from an ag exemption (1-d-1) to a wildlife exemption. Land may qualify for wildlife management use if it is instrumental in supporting a sustaining breeding, migrating or wintering population. A group of animals need not permanently reside on the land, provided they regularly migrate across the land or seasonally live there.
Let’s look at these particular ideas:
- A sustaining breeding population is a group of indigenous wild animals that is large enough to live independently over several generations. This definition implies that the population will not die out because it produces enough animals to continue as a viable group.
- A migrating population of indigenous wild animals is a group of animals moving between seasonal ranges.
- A wintering population of indigenous wild animals is a group of animals living on its winter range.
The law requires an owner to propagate the wildlife population for human use. This sounds a bit odd, but human use may include food, medicine or recreation, which is why most landowners choose to participate in the wildlife valuation. A recreational use may be either active or passive and may include any type of use for pleasure or sport.
Bird watching, hiking, hunting, photography and other non-passive recreational or hobby-type activities are qualifying recreational uses. The owner’s passive enjoyment in owning the land and managing it for wildlife also is a qualifying recreational use.