As part of the recent tax bill negotiated at the beginning of January, Congress extended the tax benefit that helps all of us who are interested in protecting clean water, natural landscapes and working family farms and ranches until Dec. 31, 2013. The law enhances the federal tax benefits for landowners who donate voluntary conservation agreements to organizations like the Eagle Valley Land Trust. These agreements also provide a win-win solution for protecting natural resources important to our community while keeping land in productive private ownership.
Last year's bills to make this incentive permanent, H.R. 1964 and S. 339, had 311 House and 28 Senate co-sponsors from 47 states. This legislation had more bi-partisan support than any other tax bill in Congress. It was widely supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. We thank our Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and our Representatives Scott Tipton and Jared Polis, for co-sponsoring this legislation and look forward to working with them in pursuing a permanent incentive in the new Congress.
This incentive enables your local Land Trust and others around the country to assist more landowners in protecting resources and rural livelihoods for our children's benefit and for our community's future. In fact, in Eagle County, the incentive is having a real impact. Since it was first enacted in 2006, hundreds of acres of agricultural land and natural landscapes have been conserved in our community.
The permanent preservation of the 740-acre Gates Ranch on Derby Creek Mesa is a perfect example. The Gates Ranch has been a working cattle ranch in our community for well over 100 years. As the original homesteaders of this land, the Gates family has created a Western ranching legacy for the benefit of our entire community. Eagle County benefits by having a working, organic cattle ranch in our midst which provides an economic engine for our local economy, while also preserving the agricultural heritage of our forefathers. It means something to produce local food on a local ranch right here in Eagle County.
In 2007, a conservation easement was placed on the Gates Ranch to permanently preserve it for future generations of ranching and agriculture. The easement prevents any future fragmentation or development of this pristine agricultural gem forever. This conservation easement also protects wildlife habitat for the elk, mule deer and other animals that migrate and live on the ranch. While some Eagle County Open Space funds were used, the Gates family also qualified for these important federal tax incentives for donations of conservation easements. Without an enhanced conservation easement tax incentive passed by Congress, important agricultural and habitat projects like the Gates Ranch might not be possible.
Before 2006, modest income landowners were only able to deduct a small portion of the value of their donation. Now, a conservation donor can deduct up to 50 percent of their adjusted gross income in any year, and, if most of their income is from farming, ranching or forestry, 100 percent of their income is deductible. Additionally, conservation donors can carry-forward the remaining value of their donation for up to 16 years.
This enhanced incentive has helped land trusts across the country work with willing landowners to increase the pace of conservation by a third, to over a million acres a year. Eagle Valley Land Trust joins America's 1,700 land trusts and their two million supporters in calling on Congress to make this important conservation tool permanent before the end of 2013.
The people of Eagle County believe in protecting our family farms, ranches, forests, and wildlife habitat - part of the cultural fabric and natural resources that make our community a great place to live.
Thanks to thoughtful landowners and a helping hand from Congress, we hope we will be able to conserve even more land over the next year and for many years to come.
Kara Heide is Executive Director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. She may be reached at 970-748-7654 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information regarding the work of your local Land Trust and the tax incentives available for conservation donations, visit www.evlt.org.