Congress Expands Conservation Tax Incentives

WASHINGTON – Strong new conservation tax incentives backed by millions of American hunters and anglers are included in a bill passed by the Senate last night. The important new incentives, and reforms affecting voluntary conservation donations including easements, were approved in the House of Representatives last week. The Pension Protection Act of 2006, which contains the new conservation tax incentives, is now headed to the White House for President Bush’s signature. Matt Connolly, President of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which helped coordinate sportsmen's and wildlife conservation organizations’ participation in a multi-year coalition effort aimed at supporting the conservation tax incentive approved by Congress, said today, “The inclusion of better conservation tax incentives in this legislation shows members of Congress and our federal policymakers got the message loud and clear from the millions of Americans who want to give more landowners options for carrying out better land stewardship.” Russ Shay of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), who co-chairs TRCP’s conservation tax incentive initiative observed, “By adding their collective voice, hunters and anglers played an important role in making this legislation a reality.” The LTA has provided critical, sustained leadership for the past two years as this issue has been dealt with in Washington. The Association of Fish and Wildlife's Gary Taylor, who also co-chairs TRCP's initiative on conservation tax incentives today said, "When you talk to the folks on the ground including state fish and wildlife managers who use tax incentives to protect large blocks of habitat, they'll tell you the incentives represent an invaluable conservation tool. This expansion of the tool's use dramatically expands the amount of land and water we can save." Many of the nation’s 40 million sportsmen are intimately familiar with the benefits of conservation tax incentives and the way the groups they belong to have used them to benefit fish and game species. Hunting- and fishing-oriented conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Trout Unlimited have used conservation tax incentives, including easements, to implement arrangements with landowners that benefit not only ducks, pheasants, elk, and trout, but a wide variety of other species. Land trusts belonging to the LTA throughout the country and organizations like the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund and the Trust for Public Land have used easements to stabilize key habitat. In an era of tight budgets, state and federal agencies have found it difficult to conserve more land, but through conservation tax incentive deals, land is often donated to them to expand public areas or to create new areas. The legislation passed by the House last week and by the Senate last night will expand the options for making the above arrangements by bringing in more moderate income family farmers and ranchers. These landowners will now be able to voluntarily opt for a significant tax benefit in exchange for donating a conservation easement that restricts future development of their land. Such easements keep more land in agriculture and conserve wildlife habitat and open space. The House and Senate approved language: • Raises 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%; • Allows qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100% of their AGI; and • Increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 years to 16 years. James L. Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality stated today, “This new conservation easement law is another important step in realizing the President’s vision for cooperative conservation. It helps fulfill the President’s commitment to landowners, sportsmen, and conservationists to provide substantial new incentives to landowners who want to commit their land to open space while keeping our nation’s working farms and ranches working.” For more details on the legislation expected to be signed into law soon by the president, please visit www.lta.org