Landmark Environmental Analysis Finds Partnership Conservation a Critical “Tool for Nature Protection”

Researchers Find Easements Effectively Address Climate Change and Protect Habitats, Wildlife, Forests and Water


In a landmark environmental analysis, researchers at the American University Washington College of Law found partnership conservation easements “are valuable tools” that “contribute to wildlife and habitat conservation objectives.” The vast majority of the lands reviewed as part of the study were protected through syndicated conservation easement transactions (SCETs).

In their conclusion, the researchers call for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Congress to focus on solutions to strengthen the integrity of all conservation easements, “instead of focusing solely on syndicated conservation easement donations.”

The study was led by William J. Snape III, assistant dean and professor at American University Washington College of Law (AU WCL), co-director of the AU WCL Program on Environmental and Energy Law, and senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. The final report was co-authored with Laura Harris and Theresa Geib.

Key Findings
  • 97 Percent Offer Significant Habitat Protection: The study concluded that 97 percent of the conservation easements it reviewed offered “effective protections for natural habitats,” including 74 percent that went above-and-beyond by offering “outstanding” habitat protection.
  • 95 Percent Deliver Wildlife Conservation Value: The researchers found “95 percent of the study’s easements” delivered value in the conservation of wildlife, including more than half (53.2 percent) that offered “outstanding” protection for wildlife, including “endangered or threatened species.” The study highlights, for example, that “13 easements in Georgia have an excellent habitat for the gopher tortoise, and the tortoise is present on those easements,” and further explains that “this land animal is a keystone species; others rely on it for survival.”
  • 72 Percent Provide for Healthy Forest Management: The study flags that “one of the primary goals of most of the easements is to protect existing old-growth forests,” which are “important for countless species of wildlife.” The researchers found more than 70 percent of conservation easements analyzed provide for healthy forest management.
  • 100 Percent “Preserve Water Quality:” The study found the “conservation easements studied all have strong water conservation provisions” and notes “water quality and water integrity are key components to any successful wildlife habitat.”
  • More Than Two-Thirds Address Climate Change: The analysis found 67.2 percent of conservation easements reviewed in the study address climate change and that more than half have management plans which “discuss carbon sequestration for carbon offsets.”
Key Conclusions
  • Partnership Conservation Easements Are “Valuable Tools:” The study concludes that the types of conservation easement reviewed are “valuable tools” that “contribute to wildlife and habitat conservation objectives” and protect “land that might otherwise be sold for development, urbanization, or commercial enterprises.”
  • Policies Targeting Partnerships Are the Wrong Approach: The researchers call for public policy solutions from Congress and the IRS that strengthen the integrity of all conservation easements, rather than proposals “focusing solely on syndicated conservation easement donations.” The study specifically calls for solutions to ensure “accurate and transparent appraisals, examine independent affirmance of the conservation value of each conservation easement, and perhaps most importantly, clarify the IRS’s new role as a de facto federal land agency.”
  • Greater Guidance and Clarity Needed From the IRS: The study suggests the IRS “immediately issue guidance” to better uphold the integrity of all conservation easements and provide clarity for taxpayers, including the “creation of a ‘safe harbor’ provision to help landowners decipher the proper extinguishment clause language to use in easement deeds.”

Read the full study in Tax Notes Federal HERE.

Learn more about Partnership for Conservation and its mission HERE.


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