December 16, 2008 -- Congress recently extended a tax incentive that enables family farmers, ranchers and other moderate-income landowners to get a significant tax benefit for donating a conservation easement on their land. This law has helped land trusts conserve about a million acres a year.
Conservation easements allow private landowners to permanently retire development rights to protect significant natural resources. The new tax incentive opened the door to voluntary, landowner-led conservation on millions of acres of important wildlife habitat and scenic open space across the country. The incentive also enhances "bargain sales" of easements purchased by local, state and federal conservation agencies. (A "bargain sale" is the sale of property to a charity or government agency for less than its full fair market value.)
How the Tax Incentive Works
The renewed incentive helps landowners of modest means choose conservation by:
- Raising the maximum deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement from 30% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in any year to 50%;
- Allowing qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100% of their AGI;
- Increasing the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 years to 16 years.
Under prior law, an agricultural landowner earning $50,000 a year who donated a conservation easement worth $1 million could take a total of no more than $90,000 in tax deductions. Under the new law, that landowner can take as much as $800,000 in tax deductions--still less than the full value of their donation, but a significant increase.
Spread the word to landowners with the Land Trust Alliance Grassroots Toolkit.
Widespread Support for Incentive Permanence
Legislation making the conservation tax incentive permanent already has 174 House and 27 Senate cosponsors. The President's 2009 budget request also endorses making the incentive permanent. More than 1200 land trusts around the country and a remarkably diverse coalition of more than 50 national organizations are working together to defend the easement incentive.
Five Ways Your Members of Congress Can Help Right Now
- Ask Senators and Representatives to cosponsor legislation making the incentive permanent:
H.R. 1576 by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Dave Camp (R-MI) S. 469 by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) For the latest cosponsors visit: www.lta.org/easementincentive/cosponsors
- Ask Reps to join the Land Conservation Caucus:
Contact Jesse Young in Rep. Chris Murphy's office or Laura Carrell in Rep. Jim Gerlach's office. For current caucus members visit: www.lta.org/policy/land-conservation-caucus
- Invite members of Congress to attend a site visit, meda event, landowner forum or similar event in the district. There's no better place to build relationships with your elected officials than on the front porch of a landowner who benefited from the tax incentive.
For ideas, templates and advice visit: www.lta.org/policy/lobbying101/meet
- Offer them a way to take credit for renewing the incentive! Offer to draft an article on the incentive for their constituent newsletter, get a joint op-ed placed in a local newspaper or arrange for an interview with agricultural press in their district.
- Ask your Rep to personally call Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and convey support for making the easement incentive permanent.
To reach any member of Congress, call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.