4/12

We Must Encourage Conservation Efforts, Not Close Doors To Participation

Conservation is important, but it carries a large financial commitment. Given this high financial cost, protecting our environment is too important of a mission to rely on government-run conservation alone. The private sector has the unique opportunity to take on greater responsibility in maintaining a healthy balance between economic growth and our environment.

Conservation easements are a key tool in protecting our nation’s most valuable land resources. They are voluntary and legally-binding agreements that limit the future development of lands forever. In 2015, Congress made permanent an enhanced tax incentive to encourage private citizens to set up conservation easements. This incentive has democratized land conservation efforts, with individuals, families and groups of unrelated individuals able to acquire and donate easements.

Together, individuals, families and conservation partnerships have preserved more than 20 million acres of land since 2005, roughly the size of the state of South Carolina. The incentive is clearly working as intended.

However, some want to restrict use of the conservation easement donation due to the rare instances of abuse. Sensible solutions exist to ensure any rare instances of abuse are rectified, but legislation currently before Congress would have too many unintended consequences that are bad for private conservation. For one, the legislation would restrict participation in conservation to all but the wealthiest of Americans. Such legislation would also result in more lands falling to development, with more wetlands and beachfront property being developed into strip malls and condos. Moreover, this legislation comes at a time when government funding for conservation is drying up and there is as strong a need as ever to preserve our natural resources.

Partnership for Conservation (P4C) believes while we must address the rare instances of abuse, we should be encouraging conservation efforts, not closing doors to participation. The current conservation easement tax incentive recognized by Congress in Section 170(h) of the Internal Revenue Code has received bipartisan support, having been approved by both the Bush and Obama administrations. And conservation partnerships have protected millions of acres of land from development. With more lands being conserved than ever before, why would we turn back the clock on a system that has been working as intended?

While the current tax incentive is working to spur increased land conservation, P4C agrees there are always improvements to be made to any law.

For this reason, P4C has developed legislative proposals that would curb limited instances of abuse but also ensure that the significant expansion of private conservation can continue to grow. These proposals include:

  • enhancing the definition of “qualified appraisal” to produce more accurate and well-substantiated valuations
  • bolstering the educational requirements to be a “qualified appraiser”
  • producing greater visibility and transparency of charitable contributions of conservation easement donations by requiring clarifying disclosures.

We should be encouraging anyone interested in land conservation to be able to participate. P4C’s commonsense legislative proposals will ensure land conservation continues to expand in a responsible way. Expanding participation in protecting the Earth’s most valuable land resources for future generations is a goal we should all embrace.


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