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Pennsylvania Ag News Headlines
America's Farmers, Sportsmen One Step Closer to Critical Conservation
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 05/30/2014

Legislation to permanently enact a tax incentive designed to spur land conservation and conserve America's working farms and ranches -- H.R. 2807 -- was passed out of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

"This is a great step forward for land conservation and for providing a reliable tool to ensure today's natural treasures can be enjoyed for generations to come," said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, which has been leading a coalition to make the provision permanent since 2006.

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act was introduced in July 2013 by Congressmen Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif), and would make permanent the enhanced tax incentives created in 2006 to help landowners preserve farms, ranches, forests and historical sites in protected easements.

Since the enhanced incentive was first passed, conservation easement donations increased by 35 percent, to a million acres a year. Unfortunately, that enhanced incentive expired for the third time December 31, 2013 once again leaving America's private landowners in limbo, Wentworth says Congress must act by passing H.R. 2807 before pending land donations disappear.

"The fact that the bill has already gained more than 200 co-sponsors underscores the breadth of support on both sides of the aisle for the idea of making the enhanced incentive permanent," he noted. "Nearly half of House members are co-sponsoring the bill, underscoring the fact that Congress believes it should be law," he pointed out. "But the number of legislative days are numbered, so the time to act is now."

The enhanced tax deductions were designed to make conservation feasible for many modest-income landowners, and as a result roughly 1 million acres a year are being preserved.

Conservation easements have been called the new face of conservation because they not only allow the land to be used while it is being conserved -- whether it is for farming, ranching, hunting or hiking -- but actually conserve land at a very affordable rate and keep land on the tax rolls. The cost of federal land purchases for national parks or forests has averaged around $12,000 per acre, versus $400 for enrolling it into a voluntary easement. More than half of American land is in private hands, and many of those landowners want to find a way to preserve their land, their waters and their ways of life. This is a voluntary, market-based solution to ensure healthy food, clean waters and sustainable communities for all Americans.

The idea of making the conservation tax incentive permanent has also been endorsed by 65 national organizations and trade associations, ranging from National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited and American Farm Bureau Federation to the Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society.

The Land Trust Alliance is the national association representing 1,700 land trusts, which have more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide.

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