Tax incentive

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust today praised a bipartisan congressional vote that makes permanent a federal tax incentive supporting land conservation.

Farmers, ranchers and the public will directly benefit from the incentive that encourages landowners to place a conservation easement on their land to protect important natural, scenic and historic resources. Georgia-Alabama Land Trust was among the 1,100 land trusts to support the incentive through a collaborative, multi-year campaign. uscapitol-washingtondc-picture1-001

“This will have significant impact on land conservation in our community,” said Katherine Eddins, Executive Director of the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. “We are grateful to Congress and our local representatives for this important legislation.”

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is a member of the Land Trust Alliance, the national land conservation organization that led the campaign for permanence.

In a strong bipartisan action, the House voted 318-109 and the Senate voted 65-33 to pass the bills that included the tax incentive.

First enacted as a temporary provision in 2006, the incentive is directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America’s natural outdoor heritage. The incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who sign a conservation easement. Such private, voluntary agreements with local land trusts permanently limit uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Lands placed into conservation easements can continue to be farmed, hunted or used for other specified purposes. The lands also remain on county tax rolls, strengthening local economies.

Once signed into law, the incentive will be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2015. An earlier version of the incentive expired Dec. 31, 2014.


Every Friday we will  feature one of our easement landowners. These stories are updates on profiles written by Frank McIntosh.  

Walter Sheffield’s uncle had a simple land ownership philosophy: “I only want to own what touches mine.” Not all of the family was quite that avid in their pursuit of land ownership, but from Walter’s grandfather’s first 70 acres purchased in 1888, they’ve been active landowners in Miller County, GA. Walter’s father’s purchased a farm adjacent to his Grandfather’s holdings in 1914, and Walter and his three siblings acquired land adjoining their father’s.

Walter Sheffield

Walter Sheffield

Earlier, much of the land was part of the Seminole nation. Andrew Jackson led an expedition to the area, and his troops notched trees along their route through the dense woods to guide them out. Many places in the area carry “three notch” in their names after Jackson’s navigation markers.

It would have been tough going with the dense cover of cedar and pines. The cedar were logged first, with the pine later harvested for ties for the rail line that forms part of the boundary of the 69-acre easement conveyed to the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. Grandfather Sheffield bought much of his land during this time, paying around two and a half dollars per acre.

After his father’s death, Walter purchased a sister and brother’s section of the family farmstead and even acquired the land that eventually became the conservation easement from his uncle. The easement protects rich soils and bottomlands that buffer Aycock’s Creek, part of the Flint River watershed, identified as a Georgia High Priority Waterway.

Like many who grew up in the area, Sheffield fondly relates experiences with hunting, bird dogs and some of the animals hunted.

Walter’s first shotgun was a reward for picking his first bale of cotton and he notes that “with lots of fence lines there were always quail. I don’t hunt any more, but I always had five bird dogs down on the property. The last one—a wonderful German short-haired pointer—died recently. He was the second best dog I ever owned.”

The first best? “Another pointer. We had split rail fencing on the property, and he would leap on top of those fences and hold a point. He was amazing.”

Live Oaks on the Sheffield Property

Live Oaks on the Sheffield Property

The property’s crown jewels for Walter remain his live oaks. Sadly, the trees have seen Grandfather Sheffield’s home burn—”six rooms with a separated cooking wing”—and saw the land that held the old house leave the family, about the only part of the family’s extended holdings to do so. If the trees live another couple of hundred years, they may never see that again.

Walter’s three children share his affection for the home place, and he reports that son John III’s first question when visiting from Denver is, “When are we going to the farm?” We hope the oaks will always have some Sheffields to shelter and echo Walter when he says of the oaks, “I hope they are there forever.”



Call your Congress Member!

Time is running out to make the enhanced tax incentive permanent for conservation easements. The U.S. House of Representatives will vote tomorrow on H.R. 5806, the Supporting America’s Charities Act, which would make permanent the incentive for donations of conservation easements.

As the 113th Congress draws to a close, the Land Trust Alliance and six  other charitable nonprofits and foundations representing tens of thousands of organizations are calling on Congress to send the charitable tax incentives package to the President’s desk before the end of the year. A letter to Capitol Hill notes that “Congress has the opportunity to multiply the millions of individual acts of generosity happening across the country and make those contributions permanent,” including the incentive for donations of conservation easements.

This incentive has helped the Land Trust preserve over 250,000 acres in the past 20 years. It has also helped land owners and farmers keep their land and continue family traditions that support our rural heritage.

We urge you to call your House member NOW at 202-225-3121 and ask for their support!

The Georgia Land Trust and The University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry are sponsoring a two day class on conservation easements on September  9- 10.  The course will cover a wide range of topics concerning easements, such as:

  • How easements affect land use
  • The advantages/disadvantages of easements
  • Which agencies and organizations can accept easements
  • Tax aspects of easements
  • How to plan for an easementIMG_5894 (1280x853)

The class is built for everyone from the novice to the professional. Landowners with an interest in protecting their forest property from development or other exploitation should attend. Foresters, accountants, attorneys, appraisers, and wildlife resource managers who work with landowners will benefit as well, plus professional CE credits will be available. Please see the link for more information or to register.

Our own executive director, Katherine Eddins will be instructing the course, plus guest speakers include board member Jack Sawyer and staff members, Kat Nelson, Drew Ruttinger, Stephen Kirk, Kimberly Holmes and Amy Gaddy.

If you have any questions about the class go online or call Ingvar Elle at 706-583-0566.



A bill making permanent the enhanced tax incentives for conservation easements is one step closer to becoming a law.  On Thursday, July 17th, the House passed H.R. 4719, The America Gives More Act of 2014, which is a charity package that, among many good causes, includes the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, HR 2807.

Choccolocco Creek

Choccolocco Creek

The enhanced incentive has been a win-win solution for private landowners who want to protect natural resources important to our communities. This new face of conservation permits landowners to set aside land for future generations and ensures that the wildlife habitat, scenic beauty and open space they provide benefit our communities far into the future.

This bill will allow landowners to take advantage of a significant tax deduction for donating a voluntary conservation agreement to permanently protect important natural or historic resources on their land. When landowners donate a conservation easement to the Alabama, Georgia or Chattowah Open Land Trust, they maintain ownership and management of their land and can sell or pass the land on to their heirs, while foregoing future development rights.

The enhanced incentive applies to a landowner’s federal income tax. The bill changes the donation tax deduction in the following ways:

  • Raises the deduction a donor can take for donating a voluntary conservation agreement from 30% of their income in any year to 50%;
  • Allows farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100% of their income; and
  • Increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 to 16 years.

“Our whole community wins when thoughtful landowners conserve their land this way. Conservation Easements protect wildlife habitat, provide clean drinking water, create recreational spaces, and preserve working farms and ranches,” said  Land Trust Executive Director, Katherine Eddins.

” The Alabama Land Trust, Georgia Land Trust and The Chattowah Open Land Trust join America’s 1,700 land trusts and their two million supporters in thanking our members of Congress  for making this important conservation tool available,” she said.

According to the Land Trust Alliance, the national organization that provides a voice for land trusts in Washington, DC, this year represents a unique opportunity for Congress to make a final push to get this legislation over the finish line. With the spotlight now shining on the Senate, it is important to make every effort possible to make the incentive permanent once and for all.

To learn more about the enhanced incentive visit:




Congressional House leadership will schedule a vote on July 16 or 17 for H.R. 2807, the uscapitol-washingtondc-picture1-001Conservation Easement Incentive Act, along with several charitable tax incentives. This bill makes the enhanced incentives for conservation easements permanent. Right now the incentive is the same as a plain non-cash donation. The new bill would make take the amount from 30% to 50%.

Even if your representative is already a co-sponsor, please call them and urge them to support this bill when it comes up for a vote Wednesday or Thursday. You can reach your rep by calling the House switch board at 202-225-3121.

The latest newsletter will soon be in your mail box and inbox within the next week. Twice a year our newsletter highlights easement donors and lets you, our supporters see what your

The Gill Family on the Cover of the latest Newsletter

The Gill Family on the Cover of the latest Newsletter

dedication has allowed us to achieve.

This month we will talk to Joseph “Moe” Gill, who has an easement next to Fort Stewart, in Savannah, Georgia. Moe’s easement is part of a program that allows the military to have war games and not disturb the neighbors. The program is called an Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB), and it sets aside land close to military installations as low population density. Suburban development has crept closer to military bases over the years and has in some areas, dedicated battle training, mostly due to noise.

Mr. Gill’s easement is a 500 acre spread in Liberty and Bryan Counties and was once a turpentine farm. Now, Moe grows crops and harvests trees. He is also trying to restore some of the native wiregrass to the area. Read more about Mr. Gill in the latest newsletter. If you have not signed up, please do so at this link .


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Executive Director Katherine Eddins talks to guests about the plans for Johnson’s Crook.

The Georgia Land Trust (GLT) held a town hall meeting on June 4, 2014 to inform the community and officials about plans to conserve its approximately 1800 acres at Johnson’s Crook in Dade County, Georgia.

The Land Trust’s mission is to preserve and protect land for present and future generations, a mission it has been on for the past 20 years. The Land Trust has protected over a quarter of a million acres, primarily with conservation easements. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a land owner and a land trust that permanently protects land from development, surface mining and other practices that would significantly harm the land and its natural areas. The Georgia Land Trust and its affiliates hold over 700 conservation easements, making it the largest land Trust in the Southeast.

Katherine Eddins, executive director of the Land Trust, explained to the participants at the meeting that GLT took on Johnson’s Crook as a protection project because of its ecological and historical significance. In addition to being a filter for clean drinking water, Johnson’s Crook contains important ecological features such as caves, rare plants and habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Eddins explained that for approximately three years, the Land Trust has been working with partners such as banks, a bankruptcy trustee and the Southeast Cave Conservancy on the acquisition and stewardship of the land. When the Land Trust completes its acquisition and conservation effort, plans are to work with an individual or organization who will own the land and will permanently protect the land with a conservation easement.

The Georgia Land Trust will continue to be involved in the stewardship of Johnson’s Crook and will insure that the land is never turned into a development or subdivision. The land trust plans to have periodic meetings to update interested parties. Updates will emailed and posted on the website ( and the Facebook page (

Eddins also explained that if anyone has questions about Johnson’s Crook or conservation easements to please call the Land Trust office at 256-447-1006.

Flirty cow

Cattle Farm on the Lowell Dollar Easement in SW GA.

On February 7th, President Obama signed the Farm Bill into law and it was a win and a wait and see for Land Trusts.

The good news is the new Agricultural Lands Easement program which will provide grants to purchase conservation easements that permanently restrict development on important farmland and reward landowners who participate in the program with permanent tax breaks. These voluntary agreements will ensure that farm land continues to be an important  and growing  part of  local economies. Properly managed working ranch lands and farms also protect important habitats for fish and wildlife and the quality and cleanliness of rivers and streams.

The big unanswered question in the bill is the tax incentives for easement donors. The enhanced incentives expired at the end of December 2013.  Those  incentives were part of the 2006 Pension Protection Act, a bill that established new funding requirements for certain retirement plans. The bill increased tax deductions people can take for donating conservation easements from 30% of their adjusted gross income in any year to 50 percent. If a donor qualified as a farmer or rancher, then up to 100% of income could be deducted.

There is still hope among some members of Congress to reinstate the old incentive. In the last month, more congressional members have signed on to co-sponsor House Resolution 2807, and  Senate Bill 526 that will make the enhanced incentives permanent. Right now the bill is stuck in committee.

Let your representative or senator know how you feel. Call the Capitol switchboard number (202-224-3121) and ask for the staffer handling agricultural issues.

Floyd Co GA Ag and Farmland cotton field _CCDue to gridlock in Congress, the enhanced conservation tax incentive was allowed to expire on December 31.  Since 2006, the incentive has helped protect more than 12 million acres of forests, urban parks and farmland. Approximately 230,000 acres of those 12 million have come from the work of the Alabama Land Trust, the Georgia Land Trust, and the Chattahoochee Valley Land Trust.

Starting January 1, landowners will still be able to take a deduction for donating easements, but will not be able to use the enhanced provisions.  The cap on the adjusted gross income goes back to 30% from the old enhanced amount of 50 percent. The carry over time for the deduction was also rolled back to 6 years from fifteen. The enhanced deduction has expired three times since 2006, and each time land donations have dropped. This on-again off-again nature of the incentive has made it difficult for land owners to make a decision about donating an easement. This situation is why some lawmakers are working to make the enhanced deduction permanent.

Leaders of  the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation in March to keep the tax incentives permanent with S 526, the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act. The House of Representatives companion bill is HR 2807. This bill was introduced by Congressmen Jim Gerlach (R-Penn) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and boasts 162 co-sponsors. More than 65 national groups are also supporting the bill. They range from the National Rifle Association to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Let your senator and congressman know how you feel about the enhanced tax incentive call the switchboard at 202-224-3121.

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