“Abusive Tax Shelters” or Abuse of Taxpayers? IRS Should Learn Difference

National Taxpayers Union
By Pete Sepp
July 26, 2018

It may not have made headlines in the mainstream media, but many in the tax-administration world took notice on Friday when a few findings leaked from an Internal Revenue Service claim that certain taxpayers who had deductions for “syndicated conservation easements” were receiving massive, unwarranted windfalls. Over the weekend NTU had the opportunity to review what was made available at the request of Members of the Senate Finance Committee, and added to what we’ve long known, we believe taxpayers should take greater note of this seemingly obscure issue. The IRS’s claim appears to be emblematic of the way the tax agency too often uses blunt tools for jobs that need refined instruments.

Here at NTU, we have a history of looking deeply into the administrative machinery of the tax system and figuring out how its gears can function more smoothly without grinding up taxpayers’ rights in the process. We have submitted comments on IRS rules ranging from family estate valuations for tax purposes to the use of outside counsel in audit situations. We’ve also made detailed recommendations on how to prevent the IRS from using extraordinary powers such as the designated summons or designating cases for litigation, which if misapplied can stamp out legitimate taxpayer rights to appeal audit results. It was during research on the latter problem several months ago that we first encountered a curious decision by the tax agency.

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Conservation partnerships are helping to protect farmland from development

High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal
By: George Thornton
June 11, 2018

If you take a trip through rural America, you will pass one farm after another that produces an abundance of food to feed both America and the world while supporting millions of jobs. These farms also serve as habitat for wildlife, including approximately half of our country’s protected species.

Family farms remain an integral part of the U.S. agricultural sector. However, due to rising costs, big farms getting bigger, and encroaching development, far too many family farms are being lost. In fact, more than 40 acres of farm and ranch land is lost hourly to development, or nearly 1,000 acres every day.

One solution is increased use of conservation easements, a vital instrument in protecting land for future use. Individuals, families or partnerships of unrelated individuals can enter into conservation easements, which are voluntary and legally-binding agreements, to protect lands from future development while allowing the continuation of activities like farming…

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2 Conservation Easement Groups Split on Antiabuse Legislation

Tax Notes
By: Fred Stokeld
May 9, 2018

Legislation to prevent abuse of a popular tax break for land donations is being hailed by a land conservation organization as a solution but criticized as misguided by another conservation group…

…There has been no action on H.R. 4459 or S. 2436 since they were introduced. Faeth said IRS reform bills currently before Congress would be good vehicles for the legislation.

But Randy Bampfield of the Partnership for Conservation, which was established to encourage private sector participation in land conservation, says the legislation does not address the underlying problem: valuation.

“To the extent that there are any challenges with respect to conservation easement donations, the problem is always in the valuation, in the appraisal,” Bampfield told Tax Analysts. “This legislation does nothing to look at the underlying appraisal to judge whether or not it is accurate and correctly done. It simply eliminates a certain class of donation regardless of the actual economic realities of the transaction and just casts them aside and says these are not permissible.”

Bampfield, a member of the IRS Conservation Easement Issue Management Team when he worked in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said the Partnership for Conservation is working on legislative proposals to enhance appraisal requirements…

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Incentives Working to Spur Land Conservation

Morning Consult
By: Drew Troyer
April 23, 2018

The United States loses about 6,000 acres of open space every day to development. Land that previously served agricultural or ecological balance purposes is bought up and converted into new homes or shopping centers.

In order to safeguard our natural environment, it is essential that this phenomenon be slowed by making land conservation an economically viable option for all landowners.

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Letter: Conservation easements benefit public

The Post & Courier
By: William Baughman
April 13, 2018

I agree with the March 25 letter headlined “Private easements” about the importance of using conservation easements to protect South Carolina land for future generations.

As we go through efforts such as the county comprehensive plan updates, we hear over and over the public’s desire to protect scenic areas, particularly along streams, to prevent development on unsuitable land and to maintain the rural nature of our area as much as possible.

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Tax incentives boost conservation needed to protect the environment

The Hill
By: Doug Saunders
April 11, 2018

A healthy environment plays a central role in ensuring the well-being of our country and our communities. That’s why protecting it for future generations is so important. Of the many ways we can safeguard our environment, land conservation has served as an especially important tool in preserving open spaces, wildlife habitats and access to natural resources. With some smart, common-sense reforms, we can ensure land conservation continues to fulfill this role for years to come.

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Protecting land around bases improves readiness

Stars And Stripes
By: Joe Knott
April 9, 2018

When most people think of land conservation, they likely think of scenic open spaces, roaming wildlife and unpolluted waters. While that type of conservation is certainly important, there are other forms of conservation that have tangible benefits for our nation’s armed forces.

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Private Conservation Efforts Need Congressional Support

The Hill
By: Ryan Williams
March 8, 2018

Our environment plays an essential role in providing a high quality of life for our country, our communities and our children. That’s why protecting it is so important. There are countless ways everyone can contribute to this mission but in recent years, land conservation has been a distinctly valuable tool for preserving the health of our environment.

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Thornton: Partnerships And Democratization Of Conservation Are A Win For All

Vail Daily
By: George Thornton
February 15, 2018

I was concerned to read a recent column making accusations about conservation partnerships (“Washington moves to beef up conservation easements,” Bergen Tjossem, Thursday, Jan. 18), and I wanted to help set the record straight. As a longtime advocate in the environment and wildlife management space, I see no benefit to dividing allies who are doing the important work of land conservation, yet that’s exactly what the author attempts to do.

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Bipartisan Support for Conservation Partnerships Enable Greater Protections of our Pristine Land

The Hill
By: Drew D. Troyer
January 23, 2018

It is rare that economic interests and environmental concerns align, but many years ago, lawmakers in Washington found a way to do just that by incentivizing charitable donations of conservation easements through the tax code.

Under this structure, which has been part of legislation signed by both Presidents Obama and Bush, private land conservation has boomed as it became a viable option for more landowners and developers for whom it was previously out of reach.

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Glassy Mountain Property in Pickens Now Protected

Greenville News
By: Haley Walters
December 21, 2017

Christmas came a little early for Doug Hinkle and his neighbors this year.

Environmental advocacy group Upstate Forever announced that a 183-acre tract of land near the base of Glassy Mountain in Pickens will be protected from development after a lengthy legal process that challenged a proposal to build 240 homes on the property.

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Old Growth Forests May Protect Some Bird Species in A Warming Climate

The Outdoor Wire Newsletter
By: The Outdoor Wire
December 18, 2017

Old forests that contain large trees and a diversity of tree sizes and species may offer refuge to some types of birds facing threats in a warming climate, scientists have found.

In a paper published today in Diversity and Distributions, a professional journal, researchers in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University reported that the more sensitive a bird species is to rising temperatures during the breeding season, the more likely it is to be affected by being near old-growth forest.

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The world’s strongest conservation law is under attack. It needs to be fixed instead.

The Washington Post Opinion Section
By: Peter S. Alagona and James Salzman
November 16, 2017

Tax incentives and subsidies are available in many areas of conservation. Forty million acres are protected under conservation easements, many encouraged by tax deductions. Farmers and ranchers accept billions of dollars for habitat protection and restoration. The farm bill’s Working Lands for Wildlife program, for example, supports species conservation on almost 7 million acres, but we don’t usually think of the Endangered Species Act through this prism. Why not shift funds or provide deductions for landowners who successfully enhance and maintain their habitat for endangered species? This would be far more targeted than traditional subsidies.

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Opinion: Georgia leads in innovative land conservation

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
October 28,2017

Considered by many as a founding father of wildlife ecology and land preservation, Aldo Leopold believed “conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves in the public interest.” The conservation movement he helped inspire is now debating the appropriateness of those rewards when the land is owned by a real-estate partnership.

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Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Leaders Promote Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund

Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
October 5, 2017

On October 3, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Members joined representatives from the sportsmen’s conservation community on Capitol Hill to promote Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017 (H.R. 2591/S. 1613) at a Breakfast Briefing hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF).

This legislation would clarify that one of the purposes of the Pittman-Robertson Fund is to extend technical and financial assistance to the states for the promotion of hunting and recreational shooting by creating flexibility for state fish and wildlife agencies to use their funds for the recruitment of sportsmen and women. This bill would also place a cap on the amount of funds used for hunter and shooter recruitment in order to ensure that wildlife conservation remains the primary focus.

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New IRS guidelines deter private land conservation, thwart congressional intent

By: Drew Troyer
October 3, 2017

In our growing and fast-changing world, opportunities to preserve scenic open space, protect wildlife habitat and safeguard natural resources for future generations are fleeting. I see the need daily as the leader of a nonprofit land trust that works to conserve environmentally valuable property.

The biggest challenge for conservation groups like mine is the lack of available funding from both government and private sources. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) made the situation worse with recent guidance that threatens to chill an attractive source of private conservation financing.

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A CSU Study: Colorado’s Return on Investments in Conservation Easements

Colorado State University
By: Andrew Seidl, David Anderson, Drew Bennett, Amy Greenwell, and Michael Menefee

The State of Colorado has invested substantial financial resources assisting state agencies, local governments, and private nonprofit land trusts in the voluntary acquisition of conservation easements from willing landowners. Two of the State’s principal efforts to incentivize the acquisition of conservation easements are the Conservation Easement Tax Credit program and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). Although these programs have funded acquisitions for over 22 years, there is little quantitative information about the benefits Colorado residents receive from the State’s investments. This study examines the ecological and economic benefits to the public from the Conservation Easement Tax Credit program and GOCO-funded conservation easements.

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Partnership-Owned Easements Safe with Solid Appraisals

Bloomberg BNA
By: Kat Lucero
August 23, 2017

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that permanently restricts development on a property. Individual owners or partners can receive a tax deduction if they donate property for this purpose under Section 170(h). One of the ways a landowner can attract private funding for the easement is to create a partnership or passthrough entity. But advocates for easements donated by partnerships argue that not all syndicated deals are bad. Rezoning the property before the partnership donates a conservation easement can demonstrate the parcel’s highest and best use, which is used to assess the value of the parcel. A property’s value can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including the popularity of surrounding real estate. This strategy would be applied whether the partnership develops or conserves the property, and often involves local municipalities that determine land use laws.

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5th Circ. Revives $16M Conservation Easement Deductions

By: Bryan Koenig
August 15, 2017

A Texas development has another shot at claiming $15.9 million in conservation easement charitable deductions after a divided Fifth Circuit panel upended Tax Court findings Friday and ruled that land modification provisions in the donations didn’t interfere with the “perpetual” requirements for land grants. The judges ruled 2-1 to send Bosque Canyon Ranch LP and BC Ranch II LP back to Tax Court, flatly rejecting Internal Revenue Service arguments that the companies, known collectively as BCR, kept modification rights that vitiated the ability to keep the 2005 and 2007 easements to the North American Land Trust “in perpetuity.”

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Ranches’ $16M Easement Case Needs More Review: Fifth Circuit

Bloomberg BNA
By: Matthew Beddingfield
August 15, 2017

Two Texas ranches will have another shot at $16 million in charitable deductions that were rejected by the U.S. Tax Court after a federal appeals court vacated the lower court’s ruling. “It’s not often the circuit court completely remands the case and says start over like this,” Ronald Levitt, a shareholder at Sirote & Permutt PC in Birmingham, Ala., told Bloomberg BNA. “This case is one we’ve been watching a lot. The IRS has been using the Tax Court decision as a hammer in many of our own cases.”

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Should Landowners Get Federal Tax Breaks for Environmental Trust Donations?

Tri-City Herald
By: Drew Troyer (“yes” response) and Timothy Lindstrom (“no” response)
July 13, 2017

Conservation is expensive. In an era when government cannot finance the cost of land preservation alone, significant new sources of private funding are required. Individuals, family partnerships and investment partnerships should all be allowed to play an important role in advancing needed conservation projects. These easement donations allow ecologically valuable land to be conserved permanently and cost the government less than purchasing and managing the land with federal or state funds.

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Supporters of IRS Easements Notice Criticize House Bill Provision

Tax Notes
By: Fred Stokeld
July 6, 2017

Drew Troyer of the Compatible Lands Foundation, speaking for the Partnership for Conservation, said that Notice 2017-10 unfairly labels many of the arrangements at issue as tax avoidance transactions when they actually help conserve land and reduce cost to government. “We’re pleased to see that Congress is taking a closer look at the way the IRS treats conservation easement donations,” he said. The Partnership for Conservation is willing to work with Congress and the IRS to address ongoing concerns about overvaluation of conservation easement donations, Troyer added.

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Conservation Easements a Weapon in Age of Trump

Dispatch/Argus QCOnline.com
By: Dan Lee
May 6, 2017

Conservation easements are among the tools which private individuals may use to help protect our environment. These agreements enable conservation-minded property owners to protect their property in perpetuity from subdivisions, commercial development, surface mining and other activities that would have a negative environmental impact on the land. As of October 2016, there were 130,758 conservation easements in the United States, covering a total of 24,717,062 acres. While there are many different varieties of conservation easements, they all essentially work as follows: conservation-minded landowners who choose to do so (conservation easements are always voluntary) give up specified rights, such as the right to subdivide their property and turn it into a housing development, while retaining all other rights related to the use of their land.

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IRS Backs Away from Conservation Easement Crackdown

Accounting Today
By: Michael Cohn
May 1, 2017

Proponents of conservation easements were concerned about the IRS crackdown. Last Thursday, the IRS issued a new notice informing them they would have more time to file the disclosures required by last December’s notice. A group that backs conservation easements hailed the new notice and sees more significance than a simple postponement of the due date. Randy Bampfield, co-chair of the Partnership for Conservation’s legal committee, said in a statement last Friday, “We are pleased to see the IRS responded to the many landowners, leaders of nonprofit land trusts and other conservation professionals who spoke out to explain the vital role that privately funded conservation easement donations play in advancing needed preservation efforts. Thanks to yesterday’s revisions, land trusts will not be considered material advisors to these charitable contributions, and landowners who donated conservation easements won a few extra months to complete the burdensome and duplicative paperwork requirements imposed by the IRS.”

His group would still like to see the IRS completely suspend last December’s notice. “However, the IRS needs to go further by suspending the underlying Notice,” Bampfield added. “It unfairly labels these already highly disclosed charitable contributions as ‘tax avoidance transactions.’ In reality, these easement donations allow ecologically valuable land to be conserved permanently and cost the government less than purchasing and managing the land with federal or state funds. Such private funding sources will be required to finance new conservation projects in an era of strained government coffers.”

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Reporting Deadline for 2016 Easement Participants Clarified

Bloomberg BNA
By: Erin McManus
April 29, 2017

Randy Bampfield, co-chair of the Partnership for Conservation’s legal committee, said the April 27 notice was “a step in the right direction,” in an April 28 statement. The IRS should suspend the original notice, which is too broad in its scope, said Bampfield, a former senior counsel with the Small Business/Self-Employed Division in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel.

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Partnership for Conservation Commends New IRS Notice, Calls for Further Revisions on Conservation Easement Donations

PR Newswire
By: Partnership for Conservation
April 28, 2017

This decision is a step in the right direction for those who care about conserving our country’s land, natural resources and wildlife habitat. We are pleased to see the IRS responded to the many landowners, leaders of nonprofit land trusts and other conservation professionals who spoke out to explain the vital role that privately funded conservation easement donations play in advancing needed preservation efforts.

However, the IRS needs to go further by suspending the underlying Notice. It unfairly labels these already highly disclosed charitable contributions as “tax avoidance transactions.” In reality, these easement donations allow ecologically valuable land to be conserved permanently and cost the government less than purchasing and managing the land with federal or state funds. Such private funding sources will be required to finance new conservation projects in an era of strained government coffers.

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The Conservation Easement Bonanza: Liberals like this Tax Provision because it Protects the Environment, Conservatives like it for the Tax Breaks, and Landholders and Investors are Reaping Financial Benefits

Real Assets Adviser
By: Bryan Kelley
April 1, 2017

As our country experiences an ever-shrinking rural environment, donating a conservation easement is often seen as providing the ideal “win-win” tool for both landowners and conservationists. The popularity of donating conservation easements has grown exponentially over recent years. According to a recent Land Trust Alliance census, almost 17 million acres have been conserved across the country as a result of conservation easement donations and this reflects an increase in conserved acreage of more than 175 percent in the last 10 years.


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Land-Tax Deal Promoters Lobby Congress after IRS Crackdown: Group Urges Congress to Postpone Disclosure Deadline

The Wall Street Journal
By: Richard Rubin and Brody Mullins
March 28, 2017

Frank Schuler, president of the Partnership for Conservation, said the Trump administration’s regulatory freeze didn’t cover this IRS notice – and should have. “This fell through the cracks and it’s fully in the spirit of everything else they’re looking at,” he said. Mr. Schuler argues that the deals bring private money to protect valuable land that might otherwise be developed. Randy Bampfield, an attorney with the Partnership for Conservation, said the notice doesn’t directly address property valuation, which is the real issue in overly aggressive deals.

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Local Landowners Protect Land from Development

The Newnan Times-Herald
By: Kandice Bell
March 21, 2017

In 2016, more than 2,300 acres of land in three Georgia counties were permanently protected by local landowners in partnership with the Oconee River Land Trust. One of the landowners, Chris Welton, stated, “Protecting the property along with the Oconee River Land Trust ensures that future generations of our family will also be able to benefit from the work that we have done and have the opportunity and enjoyment of utilizing the property in its more natural condition. We cannot rely solely on the state or federal governments to ensure that sufficient natural environments are preserved for future generations.”

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An Unwelcome Gift from the IRS on Conservation Easements

By: Ronald Levitt and David Wooldridge
January 9, 2017

The real threat of abuse in conservation easement deductions lies in overvaluation of the easement. The IRS admits this in Notice 2017-10. The IRS would be better served by rolling up its sleeves and addressing overvaluation by changing its own internal audit procedures to obtain more accurate results in a more efficient manner, rather than publishing a notice without the opportunity for stakeholder input on December 23, days before the end of the calendar year when many donations were to be completed. It is hoped that the next administration will take a hard look at this issue and come to the same conclusion that many stakeholders have: that Section 170(h) is working as intended, with rare exceptions. When the rare exception does surface, it is as a result of overvaluation of the property, and the recent IRS notice does nothing to address this underlying issue. It only places an undue burden on taxpayers making charitable donations.

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IRS Scrutinizes Land-Donation Syndicates Yielding Big Tax Breaks

Wall Street Journal
By: Richard Rubin
December 29, 2016

The IRS action last week is unfair, arbitrary and overly broad, and the next administration and Congress should review it, said Randy Bampfield, legal committee co-chair of Partnership for Conservation, an industry group formed in August as the IRS was scrutinizing syndicators. “Partnerships provide an important source of private funding to finance needed conservation projects, especially when the current owner is land-rich but cash-poor and might otherwise be forced to sell to a developer,” he said.

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IRS Flag on Some Land Conservation Deals Would Be ‘Chilling’

Bloomberg BNA
By: Colleen Murphy
November 23, 2016

Tax professionals fear that outcome after an Internal Revenue Service official said the agency is considering adding syndicated conservation easements to its catalog of “listed transactions.” The syndicated easements usually involve multiple individuals claiming a tax deduction, often through a partnership structure. Listing the transactions would be overly aggressive and might discourage all individuals—let alone groups—from making legitimate conservation arrangements, because they fear the agency’s wrath in audits, practitioners who represent holders of conservation easements and who specialize in charity law told Bloomberg BNA.

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Conserving Land and Preserving Your Legacy: When a Conservation Easement Should Be Considered

By: Steven Abernathy
November 18, 2016

Legally binding obligations that limit a property’s future use, conservation easements often protect biological, ecological, scenic, and historical resources. In addition they can serve as public parks. The way it works is a conservation easement limits commercial and industrial use, restricts or prohibits development and curbs other activities on the property. At present the National Conservation Easement Database of the United States lists an estimated 40 million acres under conservation easements—nearly the size of Washington State. Last year Congress increased the conservation easements deduction benefit for landowners of private lands from 30% to 50%.

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Group Sees Alternatives to Listed Transaction Plan for Easements

Tax Notes
November 8, 2016

Randy Bampfield of the Partnership for Conservation has asked to meet with Treasury officials to discuss alternatives to the IRS’s proposal to make syndicated conservation easement donations a listed transaction, suggesting instead a plan that focuses on over-valuation and leveraging existing streams of information the IRS receives.

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Virginia’s Return on Investment in Land Conservation

The Trust for Public Land
August 2016

The Trust for Public Land conducted an economic analysis of the return on Virginia’s investment in land conservation through a variety of state programs that funded land acquisition statewide, and found that every public $1 invested in land conservation returned $4 in natural goods and services to the commonwealth. In addition, land conservation funded by Virginia supports key industries that depend on the availability of high-quality protected land and water. A summary of the key findings and the benefits of open space investments by the Commonwealth of Virginia is presented in this report.

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The U.S. population is projected to grow by 100 million and the amount of land covered with housing, roads and shopping malls will nearly triple by 2050.

Source: Land Trust Alliance


We lose 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat every day. That’s 2.2 million acres — an area the size of Yellowstone National Park — every year.

Source: Dept. of Forestry at the US Department of Agriculture