Bipartisan House Conservation Bill to Protect Millions of Acres
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Gerlach-Thompson Bill Provides Permanent Tax Incentive to Conserve Land
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressmen Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and a bipartisan group of 133 of their colleagues today introduced a bill to help landowners work with 1,700 land trusts nationwide to protect millions of acres critical for water, wildlife and working farms, ranches and forests. Both are members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
“H.R. 2807 makes conservation a real and affordable option for family farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to protect lands that are vitally important to their communities,” said Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth, the head of a national conservation group representing 1,700 land trusts that have conserved 47 million acres. “We have such a diverse coalition of groups working together on this bill because saving land helps communities in so many ways. 
The bill has an extraordinarily varied list of supporters, including 64 organizations representing agriculture, wildlife conservation, forestry, hunting and fishing, and the environment. It also has generated a list of 135 cosponsors that spans the ideological spectrum, a rare event in what has been a very partisan session of Congress. View a list of cosponsors.
Since 2006, an enhanced income tax deduction has enabled family farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to get a significant tax benefit for voluntarily forgoing future development of their land, boosting conservation by one third, to more than one million acres a year. However, this enhanced tax incentive is due to expire at the end of this year.
The introduction of the bill is particularly important given that a major rewrite of the tax code is expected from both the House and Senate tax committees this year. Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orin Hatch (R-Utah), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee have introduced a similar bill, S.526, in the Senate.
Without the enhanced tax incentive, an agricultural landowner earning $50,000 a year who donated a conservation easement worth $1 million could take a total of only $90,000 in tax deductions. Under the enhanced incentive, that landowner can take up to $800,000 in tax deductions – still less than the full value of the donation, but a nearly nine-fold increase that would dramatically increase voluntary land conservation.
Quotes on the Conservation Easement Incentive Act
“Approximately two-thirds of our nation’s lands, and thus wildlife habitat, are privately owned. Conservation easements incentivize good land stewardship while allowing landowners to maintain ownership and keep working their land,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “Conservation easements are one of the most powerful and effective tools in preventing key habitat from being lost to development, and we thank Reps. Gerlach and Thompson for their leadership. Permanent tax incentives for conservation easements will make it more affordable for more private landowners to protect essential wetlands habitat for waterfowl, other wildlife and all of our citizens.”
“The Nature Conservancy strongly supports the Conservation Easement Incentive Act,” said Mark R. Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “The use of tax incentives for the donation of conservation easements by rural landowners has proven to be highly popular and successful in encouraging such donations. Rural family landowners must plan for years in advance for the future of their lands, and finding a way to retain their lands in family ownership is often the most important challenge they face. By making these tax incentives permanent, this legislation would encourage the economic stability of rural communities by allowing farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to afford the donation of easements and to plan for those donations in ways that best meet their financial needs. Ensuring the long-term stability of this provision would also allow groups of landowners to work together over time to conserve whole areas of particular agricultural, scenic and natural value. This legislation is good for families, good for retaining farms and ranches in agricultural use, good for open space, and good for wildlife habitat. We thank Congressmen Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) for introducing this important legislation today. The Nature Conservancy urges swift approval of this bill, as well as the parallel Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act sponsored in the Senate by Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).”
National Association of Conservation Districts President Earl Garber said, “This conservation easement tax incentive will result in voluntary, landowner-led conservation on millions of acres land. Easements help maintain or enhance land so as to also benefit agricultural production and natural resources. By giving donors the ability to maximize their deductions of up to 50% of AGI in any given year, and by allowing a farmer or rancher to deduct up to 100% of their AGI, the effectiveness of this tax incentive increase would benefit natural resources over time.”
“America’s 22 million woodland owners face numerous threats to maintaining healthy woodlands, including increasing pressure to sell their land. Conservation easements are one way for landowners to pass on their forest legacy and protect important public benefits such as wildlife habitat and clean water. The American Forest Foundation applauds the bipartisan cooperation of Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) to introduce the Conservation Easement Incentive Act,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation.
Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, said, “The conservation tax incentive has been an important and effective tool for conservation, particularly for landowners who do not have enough annual income to fully benefit from general deduction for their charitable support. We hope Congress acts soon to permanently protect this incentive, which will help protect open space and also help preserve a way of life for many American farming and ranching families. We salute the leadership of Reps. Jim Gerlach and Mike Thompson, along with all their House co-sponsors. And we also want to recognize the Land Trust Alliance, which has been a leading voice on this important issue.”
“American Farmland Trust commends Rep. Jim Gerlach and Rep. Mike Thompson for their leadership in introducing the Conservation Easement Incentive Act,” said American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaine. “This deduction is a vital tool, helping keep farmers on the land and the land in production, which is an important part of food security. We call on Congress to quickly extend this essential legislation.”
“Conservation easements on private lands nationwide are vitally important to assuring that America's precious wildlife habitats can endure,” said Douglas H. Grann, President and CEO of Wildlife Forever. “With the U.S. population trends continuing upward, the voluntary conservation of America's wildlife, forests and watersheds by private landowners is a must if quality hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities are going to remain a part of the American experience. Congress must act now to pass the Conservation Easement Incentive Act.” Wildlife Forever is the nonprofit conservation arm of the North American Hunting Club and North American Fishing Club, whose combined memberships exceed one million hunters and anglers in the U.S. and Canada.
About Land Trust Alliance
The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation group that works on behalf of the nation’s 1,700 land trusts to save the places people love by strengthening conservation nationwide. The Alliance works to increase the pace and quality of conservation by advocating favorable tax policies and training land trusts in best practices, and working to ensure the permanence of conservation in the face of continuing threats. Details at www.lta.org/policy.