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Private Conservation Is An Essential Supplement To Government Programs

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) places a heavy emphasis on conservation work, devoting billions of dollars in its annual budget to conservation programs. While all conservation is important and helps protect our natural environment, it is clear that private conservation efforts can play a larger role in protecting our nation’s land resources.

A deeper examination into the USDA’s proposed FY2018 budget provides insight into federal conservation funding. The agency’s programs with the highest yearly funding include:

  •  Conservation Reserve Program: $1.7 billion
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program: $1.426 billion
  • Conservation Stewardship Program: $1.4 billion
  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program: $250 million

Altogether, billions of dollars from American taxpayers go toward the USDA’s 19 federally funded conservation programs each year. According to a May 2017 Congressional Research Service report, in FY2006, federal conservation funding totaled $3.6 billion and grew yearly to more than $5 billion in FY2017.

These annual budget totals clearly demonstrate that conservation is a priority for the federal government, as it should be. However, with 70 percent of the nation’s lands under private ownership, it is essential that the private sector bears greater responsibility in these conservation efforts.

That is why Congress rewrote the tax code in 2015 to make permanent an incentive for more private land conservation. By encouraging individuals, families and conservation partnerships to protect our natural resources, millions of acres of land have been conserved by a variety of landowners across our country. The tax incentive is clearly working as intended.

The current legislation is working as intended, but improvements can and should be made without losing site of the end goal – increasing land conservation. That is why 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. Partnership for Conservation’s legislative proposals include:

  • Enhancing the definition of “qualified appraisal” to produce more accurate and well-substantiated valuations.
  • Bolstering the educational requirements for a “qualified appraiser” to ensure appraisers have sufficient training and expertise.
  • Producing greater visibility and transparency of conservation easement donations.

With the federal government clearly committed to funding conservation, it is a matter of ensuring this goal uses taxpayer money in the best way. Government programs like those at USDA have an essential role to play but we should be encouraging expanded participation in land conservation, not working to limit access to it. By spurring a greater democratization of private land conservation and opening the process beyond the wealthiest Americans, an improved tax incentive will preserve millions of acres of land for future generations.


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