The limits of communities in regulating timber harvesting operations are set forth in Georgia by state code through OCGA 12-6-24 Notice of Timber Harvesting Operations. This code applies only to “timber harvesting operations which qualify as forestry land management practices or agricultural operations, …not incidental to development, on tracts which are zoned for or used for forestry, silvicultural, or agricultural purposes.”
This state code section describes the authority of city and county governments to regulate timber harvesting activities as follows:
- Communities may require a notice of timber harvesting operations which requires notification prior to or at the latest within 24 hours of beginning operations, and within 24 hours of completing the operations.
- Communities may not require a fee for a notice of timber harvesting operations.
- Communities may not require a permit for timber harvesting on properties zoned for agricultural, forestry or silvicultural land uses.
- Communities may require a bond or letter of credit for any damage that may be caused for up to $5,000, valid only for the calendar year it was delivered.
- Fines for violations of the notice requirements may not exceed $500.00.
Information required on the notice of timber harvesting operations is limited to the following:
- A map of the area identifying the location of the tract to be harvest, including the main points of ingress and egress of trucks to and from the tract onto a public road.
- Whether the timber will be removed as a lump sum sale, per unit sale, or owner harvest for ad valorem tax purposes.
- The contact information of the timber seller or the timber owner if an owner harvest.
- The contact information of the firm harvesting the timber, including nighttime and emergency phone numbers.
ADDITIONAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT REQUIREMENTS
Many tree ordinances that address timber harvesting include a requirement that all forestry and timber harvesting operations be done in accordance with Georgia’s Best Management Practices for Forestry guidelines. The Georgia Forestry Commission has an agreement with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to administer a program to educate the forestry community, promote best management practices and investigate and mediate issues associated with forestry operations and water quality. More information on Georgia’s Forestry BMPs can be found on the GFC website.
Some communities regulate timber harvesting activities that take place on land that is not zoned agricultural, for example on residential- and commercial-zoned property, requiring buffers, the conservation and protection of special trees, a tree plan, or conservation of trees in high priority areas for tree canopy. In some communities, clearcutting of timber may only occur on properties zoned agricultural, with only thinning allowed on non-agricultural zoned properties. On buffers may be required even on land that is zoned agricultural in some communities.
In an effort to discourage the removal of all trees in a timber harvesting operation that will lead to development or speculative grading in anticipation of development, many communities place a moratorium on any development permits for a period ranging from 3 to 5 years after the completion of the timber harvest. However, some of these ordinances also state that if a tree plan showing compliance with the tree ordinance is submitted in conjunction with the notice of timber harvesting, the moratorium would not apply. This leaves it up to the property owner to decide whether or not they want to pursue development after the timber harvest.