Best Practices To Protect The Integrity Of Conservation Easements

From coast to coast, the United States is blessed with incredible natural resources. Protecting these lands and waters for future generations is extremely important. Conservation has already successfully protected millions of acres of undeveloped land, and we must work to preserve open spaces, wildlife habitats and access to natural resources by continuing our efforts for decades to come.

Population growth in the United States, now home to more than 325 million people, has resulted in more and more lands being lost to development. While we cannot, and should not, forestall all development, we must strike a healthy balance. Between 1982 and 2001, approximately 34 million acres of open space were converted for development use, and an additional 26 million acres are expected to be developed by 2030.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost – conservation easements can reverse this worrisome trend.

Conservation easements, voluntary and legally-binding agreements that limit the future development of lands forever, are an effective tool to protect our country’s valuable land resources. Congress passed an enhanced tax incentive to encourage private individuals to donate conservation easements, thus protecting valuable lands from future development. Importantly, this incentive has led to a democratization of land protection efforts and has protected biodiverse green spaces, precious habitat and beachfronts from the dreadful fate of strip malls and condos.

Since 2005, individuals, partnerships and families have conserved more than 20 million acres of land – roughly the size of the state of South Carolina. The enhanced tax incentive is working as intended.

However, some groups strongly believe in government conservation policy that relies more heavily on federal and state funding for conservation and arbitrarily restricts the conservation easement tax incentive to wealthy individuals and families. Such a policy change would greatly restrict the amount of land conserved in our country by excluding any unrelated persons who want to contribute to conservation efforts but must pool their resources to be able to afford it. The current tax incentive, recognized by Congress in Section 170(h) of the Internal Revenue Code, has been approved on a bipartisan basis by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

It has led to more lands being conserved than ever before, so why should we turn back the clock on a system and limit conservation if the law has been working as intended?

Partnership for Conservation (P4C) has developed a list of best practices that it encourages its members and all who make conservation easement donations to follow. P4C’s best practices include ensuring easements satisfy at least two conservation purposes, strengthening appraisal credentials and requiring third-party review.

P4C’s best practices would help preserve the integrity of conservation easements, address rare instances of abuse and expand private conservation. Encouraging all Americans to conserve our nation’s precious lands is a goal we should all embrace.

To learn more about P4C’s best practices, click here.

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