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Landmark Agriculture and Open Space Conservation Bill Introduced

March 31, 2009 | Washington, D.C.


Russ Shay, Director of Public Policy
Phone: 202-638-4725, ext. 305,


Landmark Agriculture and Open Space Conservation Bill Introduced

93 Representatives support making the conservation easement incentive permanent


Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Eric Cantor (R-VA) introduced the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, H.R. 1831.  This bill will aid in the protection of millions of acres of the nation’s agricultural lands and open spaces.  H.R. 1831 makes permanent an expiring incentive that allows modest-income landowners to receive significant tax deductions for donating conservation easements that permanently protect important natural or historic resources on their lands.

“We’ve seen a 50 percent increase in the number of conservation easement donations since Congress passed my provisions to enhance these tax benefits on a temporary basis in 2006,” said Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA).  “If current development trends continue in California, another two million acres will be paved over by 2050.  It’s time we made these protections permanent.  By making sure that landowners can count on these enhanced tax benefits, we’ll take a big step forward in preserving our agricultural lands and keeping our environment safe from overdevelopment.”

“I have seen firsthand how conservation easements are being used by family farms in my district.  Providing a permanent tax incentive for conservation easements is a great way to encourage conservation efforts while also reducing the tax burden on these hard working families,” said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA).

When landowners donate a conservation easement, they maintain ownership and management of their land and can pass the land on to their heirs, while foregoing their rights to develop the land in the future.  Congressmen Thompson and Cantor anticipate that their bill, which allows farmers, ranchers and other landowners to deduct a larger share of their income over a longer period of time, will help more families afford to conserve their land.

The bill enjoys broad support from a national coalition of farmers, ranchers, conservationists, outdoor recreation and sportsmen’s groups and government officials.  A remarkable 93 Representatives from every region of the country have signed on as original co-sponsors of the bill.  Representatives Thompson and Cantor are members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over all tax measures in Congress.

John Hoffnagle, Executive Director of the Land Trust of Napa County, has worked with Congressman Mike Thompson for years; his land trust has conserved over 50,000 acres of land.  “I’m thrilled that Congressman Thompson will lead the charge to champion conservation easement legislation again this year.  It’s a blessing to have a leader like Congressman Thompson representing our wildly diverse district.  He has seen firsthand the dramatic impact that the incentive has had in helping landowners permanently conserve farmlands and vineyards, wildlife habitat and open space in Napa and across the nation.”

Christopher G. Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council, which has helped landowners to permanently conserve over 300,000 acres in Virginia, said “Congressman Eric Cantor recognizes the value of protecting Civil War battlefields and other landscapes important to America’s heritage while simultaneously protecting agriculture production, water supplies and healthy, vibrant communities throughout the Commonwealth and the country.  Congressman Cantor’s sponsorship of the Conservation Easement Incentive Act sends a clear message that private land conservation is an important bi-partisan priority.”

The enhanced tax incentive allows working family ranchers and farmers, to deduct up to 100% of their income for as many as 16 years in order to deduct the full value of their generous gift.  First passed in 2006 and extended in the 2008 Farm Bill, this incentive is set to expire on December 31, 2009.  The Conservation Easement Incentive Act will make this valuable conservation tool permanent.

“The Land Trust Alliance deeply thanks Congressmen Thompson and Cantor for their leadership on this incentive, which has helped land trusts across the country conserve 535,000 more acres in 2006 and 2007, than in the two years prior to its enactment,” said Alliance President Rand Wentworth.  “Their efforts to make this important conservation tool permanent in the 111th Congress are welcomed not only by America’s 1,700 land trusts and their two million supporters, but also by local communities seeking to protect their clean air and water, scenic landscapes, recreational places, and wildlife habitat.”

About the Land Trust Alliance

The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation group that works on behalf of America’s 1,700 land trusts to save the places people love by strengthening conservation throughout America.  The Alliance works to increase the pace and quality of conservation by advocating favorable tax policies, training land trusts in best practices and working to ensure the permanence of conservation in the face of continuing threats.

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