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Land Trust Federal Policy Issues

posted Mar 19, 2012, 9:49 AM by Thomas Eddy   [ updated Mar 19, 2012, 9:56 AM ]

Several federal programs have a direct influence on the work of land trusts and private land conservation in Wisconsin, creating incentives for land owners and important matching funds for land protection deals.

Tax Incentives for the Donation Conservation Easements

Updated:  February 23, 2012

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act (also known as H.R. 1964) championed by Gathering Waters Conservancy, the Land Trust Alliance, and Wisconsin's land trust community is now supported by 300 U.S. Representatives, including majorities of both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The legislation would make permanent a recently-expired tax incentive that helps Wisconsin land trusts work with landowners to conserve important natural, agricultural, and historic resources across our state.

Co-sponsors from Wisconsin Congressional delegation include Representatives Baldwin, Duffy, Kind, Moore, Petri, Ribble and Sensenbrenner.

Landowners can retire the development rights on their land by donating a conservation easement to a land trust in order to keep farm and forest lands in productive use, to protect important fish and wildlife habitat, and to conserve our scenic and historic heritage. Since the tax incentive expired at the end of 2011, landowners with modest incomes now receive little tax benefit from restricting what may be their family's most valuable asset -- their land. By allowing donors to deduct a larger portion of their income over a longer period of time, H.R. 1964 will help thousands of family farmers and forest owners across the country afford to conserve their land.

Conservation easements are an important tool for land conservation in Wisconsin and across the nation, and the enhanced tax incentive for the donation of easements provides landowners with more options and would help to accelerate the pace of conservation.

The full list of 300 House co-sponsors is available on the Land Trust Alliance website. They include the Chairman, Ranking Democrat and 32 of 37 members of House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax measures. A broad coalition of sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts, farmers, ranchers and national conservation groups are working together to make this incentive permanent in the 112th Congress.

Please take the time to thank your Representatives if they have already co-sponsored this legislation, and urge the other members of Wisconsin's Congressional delegation, including Senators Johnson and Kohl to support this important public policy.

Farm Bill Programs

Updated: February 29, 2012

On Tuesday, February 28, 2012, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on strengthening conservation through the 2012 Farm Bill.  Our colleagues at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and the Heart of the Lakes Center for Land Conservation Policy provided excellent written testimony on the easement programs in the Farm Bill's Conservation Title.  Gathering Waters Conservancy and several Wisconsin land trusts also signed on to a letter of support for the Conservation Title.

Federal Farm Bill conservation programs are the single largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation.  The Farm Bill will soon be making its way through the hearing process in Congress and Gathering Waters Conservancy is working with partners to demonstrate a broad range of support for the all-important Conservation Title in the Bill.

The following is a quick summary and background on the Farm Bill:

  • The Farm Bill is by far the most important legislation for conserving private lands in the U.S. It provides incentives to farmers, foresters and other private landowners in Wisconsin that result in cleaner water, improved soil conservation, enhanced wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities, increased flood control and economic benefits for local communities and rural economies.
  • The Farm Bill must be reauthorized every five years and current authorization expires this September. In fact, this year's hearings begin on February 15th.
  • On Wednesday, February 29th, the committee will hold a hearing entitled: "Strengthening Conservation through the 2012 Farm Bill"
  • We expect increased pressure on funding for the entire farm bill. Declining federal resources underscore the need to make the case for the Conservation Title and demonstrate diverse, nation-wide support.
  • Ask the Leadership of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to sustain the integrity and effectiveness of the Conservation Title which is essential to the long term productivity and economic viability of our nation.
  • Farm Bill Conservation Programs Support The Natural Resource Economy
  • Farm and farm-related employment includes about 24 million jobs. Estimates by the American Forest and Paper Association are that forest management and forest dependent industries account for approximately 5 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, produce about $175 billion in products annually, and employ nearly 900,000 people.
  • A USFWS study found that hunting, angling and wildlife-dependent recreation contribute $122 Billion annually to our national economy.

There will be opportunities for input into the Farm Bill in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.


Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

Updated:  March 15, 2012

On March 8, by a surprisingly strong vote of 76 to 22, the Senate approved an amendment (#1822) to the Senate Transportation Bill to provide two years of dedicated Land & Water Conservation Fund funding ($700 million/year) and re-authorize the program through 2022. This amendment also includes the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, directing much of the Clean Water Act penalties associated with the 2010 Gulf spill back to the region for long term ecological restoration and economic development.

This isn’t a done deal yet. The House and Senate still need to approve their respective transportation bills and reconcile differing language, which could be difficult. The House also approved a RESTORE Act amendment, but did not include LWCF or clearly dedicate restoration spending. This is, however, a major step towards enacting this important legislation.

A fact sheet on the amendment can be found here.


Forest Legacy Program

The Forest Legacy program is administered by the U.S. Forest Service and provides grants to states for the purchase of conservation easements and fee simple acquisition of environmentally-sensitive or threatened forest lands.  The U.S. loses more than half a million acres of privately-owned timberland to development each year.

The Forest Legacy program provides an alternative to selling timberland for development.  As of February 2006, 1.1 million acres have protection through this program.  A list of projects can be found here:

The Forest Legacy Program provides grants to enrolled states to purchase conservation easements or fee acquisition on environmentally important forest lands that are threatened with conversion to non-forest uses.  Land trusts can provide invaluable assistance with their experience bringing landowners and projects to the table, negotiating and monitoring easements, and participating in many other ways.

In Fiscal Year 2010, Forest Legacy funding grew by 60% to $79.5 million.  The Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution then cut funding to $53 million, a 31% cut from last year.