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A Majority of House Lawmakers Sign on as Co-Sponsors for Conservation Legislation

June 17, 2014 | Land Trust Alliance | Washington, D.C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Elizabeth Ward
Director of Communications, Land Trust Alliance
Email | (202) 638-5658

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A bill to permanently enact a tax incentive for conservation of farmland, rangeland, woodlands and open spaces, H.R. 2807, gained its 219th cosponsor today, a majority of the members of the House of Representatives.

“The sponsorship of a majority of the House is an important milestone because of the urgent need to restart this important incentive as soon as possible,” said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, who noted that the incentive, which enabled private landowners to conserve a million acres a year, expired on January 1 of this year.

The bi-partisan bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on May 29, but has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full House.

“This bill is a clear demonstration that Congress can come together on some very important issues, such as setting aside some of America’s most productive acres and important open spaces for future generations of Americans,” said Wentworth, “It is our hope the House will now move forward and have a vote of all its members as soon as possible.”

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act, introduced last year by Congressmen Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif) would make permanent the enhanced tax incentives created in 2006 to help landowners preserve farms, ranches, forests and historical sites in protected easements, working in partnership with land trusts – nonprofit conservation organizations. Land trusts have now conserved more than 47 million acres, an increase of roughly 10 million acres since 2005.

"Nearly any property owner with a desire to voluntarily preserve their land and communities of all sizes can reap the benefits of the conservation easement incentive, and that's why a majority of members in the House have added their names to this legislation,” said Congressman Jim Gerlach. “The momentum continues building for this bill, and I am confident the full House will soon vote to enhance and make permanent this extremely successful incentive."

The enhanced incentive, first passed in 2006, has expired repeatedly since passage including the end of last year. “This on-again, off-again incentive makes it nearly impossible to educate and encourage potential land donors to enter a conservation easement program,” said Wentworth.  “It's difficult for landowners to donate what is perhaps their largest monetary asset – the future development rights of their lands – if the threat of the end of the tax incentive is constantly looming.”

Conservation easements set aside land at a fraction of what it would cost for the federal government to purchase and supervise the land, and the land remains on the tax rolls.  Moreover, the cost of working with private landowners to maintain these easements is born by nonprofit land trusts rather than the government.

“Conservation easements are a voluntary, market-based solution to ensure healthy food, clean waters and sustainable communities for all Americans,” Wentworth said. “If conservation is going to be permanent, then the law that provides this important tax incentive should be as well.”

Although the bill has a solid backing, there are a limited number of legislative days left in the Congress to get the work done. “The enhanced conservation tax credit deserves consideration on the House floor,” Wentworth added.

Sixty-five national organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society, also back the idea of making the enhanced conservation tax credit permanent.

The Land Trust Alliance is the national association representing 1,700 land trusts, which have more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide.

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