Senate approves conservation tax incentives for landowners
SUMMIT COUNTY – The U.S. Senate approved a bill this week that offers landowners four new tax incentives if they place their land in a conservation easement.
Senate Bill 476 – also known as the CARE bill – would offer tax incentives to landowners who donate conservation easements on their lands or who sell their land to a conservation organization. Additionally, a third incentive would allow nonprofits to use tax-exempt bonds for conservation of forests, and a fourth one exempts conservation grants from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Partners in Wildlife Program from taxation.
The House of Representatives must approve the bill before it becomes law.
“These incentives will help farmers, ranchers and other landowners who want to protect their land from development,” said Land Trust Alliance (LTA) president Rand Wentworth. “The Senate recognizes that private, voluntary land conservation offers the best hope for protecting the American landscape. These new tax benefits will dramatically increase the number of landowners who will choose to conserve their land.”
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Max Baucus, D-Mont. Conservation easements are contracts that remove development rights from a piece of land to preserve the natural landscape forever. The landowner continues to own the land and can continue to farm or ranch the property.
One section of the CARE package would allow landowners who donate a conservation easement to a nonprofit or government agency to deduct the value of their gift over 16 years rather than the six years currently permitted. It also would increase the amount that can be deducted in any one year from the current 30 percent of the donor’s income to 50 percent, with provisions allowing farmers and ranchers to deduct all of their income under certain circumstances.
Currently, landowners who donate conservation easements are limited to deducting 30 percent of their adjusted gross income in any year for a maximum of six years. That means if a landowner earned $50,000 annually – typical for America’s farmers and ranchers – and donated an easement worth $1 million, the landowner could deduct only $15,000 in any year, up to a maximum of $90,000.
“The law needed to be changed to give a fair incentive to people giving extraordinary donations that were worth many times their annual income,” said LTA public policy director Russ Shay. “It only makes sense to allow ranchers, farmers and other middle-income landowners to get an incentive in proportion to the value of their gift, rather than to the size of their income.”
A second section of the CARE bill would cut capital gains taxes by 25 percent on sales of land or donations of conservation easements to a conservation organization or government agency. It is modeled on the 50 percent exclusion President Bush proposed in his budget.
A third section would exclude from taxation grants to landowners from the Department of Interior’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, which shares in the cost of improving wildlife habitat on private lands.
An amendment to the bill also includes a provision setting up a pilot program under which nonprofit organizations could issue up to $2 billion in tax-exempt bonds to purchase land for conservation, with the bonds repaid by renewable-resource use on the land.
“In making a decision to protect their lands, landowners can give their communities a never-ending gift,” Wentworth said. “Congress is making it possible for more landowners to do this, and it is a wonderful contribution to conservation of the American landscape.”
The Land Trust Alliance, founded in 1982, is the nation’s leading authority on private, voluntary land conservation. It represents more than 1,250 nonprofit land trusts that have protected more than 6.2 million acres of open space across the country.
Locally, the Continental Divide Land Trust (CDLT) works to protect natural and scenic areas and ranches by accepting donations of conservation easements and land. To date, CDLT has protected more than 1,100 acres in seven conservation easements and one parcel of donated land in Summit and Park counties. For more information, contact CDLT at (970)-453-3875 or firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.cdlt.org.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
Volunteers needed for conservation projects
SUMMIT COUNTY – Volunteers interested in sinking their teeth into a project with substance are invited to contact the Continental Divide Land Trust (CDLT) for information on a wide variety of volunteer projects to help the land trust fulfill its mission of land preservation.
CDLT is a Summit County-based nonprofit that works to protect open space and the natural beauty of Summit and neighboring counties through conservation easements, land acquisition, and public education.
Many volunteers are needed for “day-of” projects such as helping monitor a conservation easement property, assisting with special events by taking tickets or serving beer, or stuffing envelopes and preparing mailings. And some of the available volunteer positions involve in-depth projects that are ideal for people looking for a challenge. Many of the projects may be applicable to future employment in the conservation field or other nonprofit sectors.
Other rewards include the knowledge you are helping preserve natural lands and the scenic views that make the Summit County community so desirable and the ability to work with other conservation-
minded people. Volunteers help CDLT stretch its operations budget further, allowing the organization to do more with less.
For more information, a detailed list of volunteer needs, or to sign up, contact the Continental Divide Land Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (970) 453-3875.
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