The Land Trust Alliance Wednesday praised a bipartisan congressional agreement that would make permanent a 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. The Alliance led its more than 1,100 member land trusts and 5 million supporters through a collaborative, multi-year campaign to secure the incentive’s permanency.
“This could be the most important conservation legislation in 20 years,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president. “It will result in the conservation of millions of acres of America’s most important natural areas, farms and ranches. This agreement demonstrates that we as a nation treasure our lands and must conserve their many benefits for all future generations.”
Congress is expected to vote starting Thursday to make the incentive permanent as part of a broad, year-end deal. The White House has said it supports the deal.
“We are immensely grateful to our many champions in Congress along with the many land trusts and land conservation supporters who worked tirelessly alongside us on this landmark achievement,” Mr. Wentworth said. “With broad support from Republicans and Democrats, Congress demonstrated that land conservation is not a partisan issue – it is widely supported by all Americans.”
First enacted as a temporary provision in 2006, the incentive is responsible for conserving more than two 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 value. 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, said officials.
“This is an historic moment, but we have only just begun,” said Andrew Bowman, who will become president of the Alliance when Mr. Wentworth retires Feb. 10. “The Land Trust Alliance has built a powerful network of bipartisan relationships, and we will now focus that power on new initiatives to expand the funding, policies and public support for land conservation.”
Once signed into law, the incentive will be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2015. An earlier version of the incentive expired Dec. 31, 2014.
The incentive advanced through Congress as part of the America Gives More Act, a package of tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. It passed the House earlier this year, 279-137. A standalone version of the incentive, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, had 52 Senate sponsors this year. The agreement announced Wednesday additionally encourages donations to food banks and facilitates charitable deductions from IRAs.