Land in Massachusetts is taxed at its "full and fair market value". Most often this value is based on the land's ability to support residential development. Taxing land based on its development potential can put a burden on those landowners who wish to maintain their land in woodland, since the market value of the land, and the associated annual taxes, is usually greater than the short-term income received from growing trees. In addition, taxing land based on its full and fair market value does not take into consideration the many public values that woodlands provide communities, such as: clean water, community character and wildlife habitat.
In order to encourage landowners to keep their land in open space (uses other than development, e.g. woodland and fields), the Commonwealth offers three tax programs (Ch. 61, 61A and 61B) named after the section of the Massachusetts General Law which was passed to create them. These tax laws provide a means to assess land at a portion of its fair market value.
The programs were created to appeal to landowners with different goals.
Ch. 61 - Tax incentive for long-term management of woodland for wood production.
Ch. 61 A - Tax incentive for active agricultural or horticultural uses.
Ch. 61 B - Tax incentive for land in natural, wild, open or landscaped use or an approved
Each program has different eligibility requirements to get into the program and different consequences for withdrawing from them. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the programs, their incentives, limitations, and your responsibilities under each of them before making a decision as to weather one of the programs will meet your needs. Speaking with the state service forester working in your town is an excellent way to learn more about the programs.
The tax programs can play an important role in maintaining open space in your town by taxing land in recognition of the many public benefits that private landowners provide to their local communities. In addition, maintaining open space can help balance town budgets since open space requires less town services than residences.