As the U.S. population continues to expand over the next several decades, open lands for farming, grazing, fishing, hunting or hiking will become increasingly hard to find.
One of the most cost-effective ways of conserving these precious lands is known as a conservation easement, whereby a local landowner donates the future development rights to his or her land in exchange for a limited federal tax benefit.
Currently, there are nearly 190,000 acres enrolled in land trusts throughout North Carolina.
In 2006, Congress gave this method of land conservation a major boost by passing an enhanced federal tax deduction for landowners who are willing to donate easements that protect their land into the future. That law achieved its intended effect, and nationwide easement donations increased by 35 percent annually to roughly one million acres a year, helping us preserve a natural legacy for our future.
Conservation of our precious lands and waters suffered a setback last year, however, when the enhanced incentive expired.
Fortunately, there is broad-based, bipartisan political support in Washington to make the conservation tax incentive permanent in the form of pending legislation before Congress. But we must act now as time is of the essence.
The bill in the House, H.R. 2807, has nearly enough co-sponsors to virtually guarantee its passage, while political support for the Senate bill, S. 526, is robust as well.
This is literally an instance of having all the necessary pieces in place and simply needing a strong push to get this legislation over the finish line. The enhanced incentive has been a win-win solution for the High Country, protecting natural resources important to our community while keeping land in productive private ownership.
It is the new face of conservation, permitting landowners to set aside land for future generations, keeping them on the tax rolls, and ensuring that the wildlife habitat, scenic beauty and open space they also provide benefit our communities far into the future.
For example, throughout our community, both New River Conservancy and Blue Ridge Conservancy have worked for decades protecting thousands of precious acres and in effect, preserving our community’s exemplary natural heritage and way of life.
Land trust easements are also taxpayer friendly, since instead of being cared for and overseen by the federal government – like national parks – they are managed by local land trusts. We have 35 such trusts in our state, and they operate as private organizations that are often staffed and/or supported by volunteers. When discussing real estate, the saying is that “location is everything.”
When discussing legislation, timing is everything. And the time for making the enhanced tax incentive for conservation easements permanent is now.
Pick up the phone and make sure Representative Virginia Foxx and Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan know how you feel.