The United States is home to tremendous natural beauty, from the Grand Canyon to the New England coastline. Protecting these lands for future generations is incredibly important. Land conservation has successfully protected millions of acres of open space across the country, and continuing these efforts benefits all Americans.
That is why Congress updated the tax code in 2015 to make permanent an incentive that opens private conservation to a broader range of individuals. In fact, since 2005, the year prior to the current tax incentive’s introduction, more than 20 million acres of land have been conserved. The nationwide surge in conservation is a direct result of this incentive, which was passed with bipartisan Congressional support.
Current conservation easement legislation is a good example of Washington policy done right since it protects important and biodiverse green spaces and precious habitat forever. While no legislation is perfect, this easement legislation has been an incredibly successful and cost-effective way to spur private efforts to protect our country’s unique natural resources. It has led to more lands being conserved than ever before.
Nevertheless, there is some unfounded criticism being lodged towards some conservation easement donations, specifically those involving partnerships of unrelated individuals. This position is misguided. We shouldn’t turn back the clock on a conservation policy that is working as intended, and doing so would greatly diminish landowner incentives for choosing conservation over development or sale to a development company.
The federal, state and local governments use the tax code to incentivize a broad range of activities for economic, social and environmental benefits. Examples include:
Incentives like those for wind energy programs are often praised. Yet, critics of conservation easements argue we should scrap the associated tax incentive due to rare instances of abuse. What they fail to note, however, is that the problem is not the tax incentive or ownership structure but valuation. Conservation efforts like ours would truly be hindered without the current tax incentive, and we should work to address limited instances of abuse but protect this valuable incentive.