The conservation easement tax incentive is set to expire at the end of the year, but there are legislators and advocates who are trying to not only renew it, but make it permanent.
Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced S.B. 526, the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act, and Representatives Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced H.R. 2807, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act in the House. Both bills are currently being debated in committees.
Since 2006, the enhanced income tax deduction has allowed family farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners to get a significant tax benefit for donating a conservation easement on their land. Conservation easements allow private landowners to permanently retire development rights to protect significant natural resources. The enhanced tax incentive opened the door to voluntary, landowner-led conservation on millions of acres of important wildlife habitat, farmland, and scenic open space across the country. A survey by the Land Trust Alliance showed that this incentive helped America’s 1,700 land trusts increase the pace of conservation by a third – to over a million acres a year. This year the Georgia Land Trust, the Alabama Land Trust and the Chattowah Open Land Trust will surpass the quarter of a million acre mark in total conservation.
The rapid loss of farmland in this country and the fragmentation of natural environments is alarming. The United States is losing more than 2 million acres of fertile farm, ranch and forest land every year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In fact, current rates and patterns of land consumption, if left unchecked, will result in wide-scale loss of the special natural places we need and love within the next 20 years.
Donating development rights to land – often a family‘s most valuable asset – requires careful planning and consideration. It often takes years from the initial conversations with a landowner before a conservation easement is executed. Landowners considering a such a commitment of their land should not be pressured by an artificial deadline, and many will never begin the process without the reassurance of a permanent incentive.
Tell your member of Congress how you feel. You can reach them by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.