California U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) have introduced a bill to help landowners conserve our country's precious agricultural land and open spaces.

The bill would permanently extend an important tax incentive for farmers and ranchers who donate their land's development rights to local land trusts, creating a conservation easement. The currently available tax deduction for conservation easements, which expires at the end of the year, has been extremely successful at encouraging landowners to preserve their land's agricultural purpose rather than sell it to developers.

"America's agricultural lands and open spaces are being swallowed up by development at an alarming rate," said Rep. Thompson. "Conservation easements are slowing that trend, but it can take time for landowners to implement them. By making this law permanent, we are ensuring a consistent and stable tax policy for landowners who protect their property from development. It will keep farmers in agriculture, preserve open spaces, and enhance the quality of our air and water."

"Conservation easements work," said Rep. Camp. "Without this land preservation tool, some of the nation's most pristine environmental and agricultural properties would have been lost to commercial development. For the sake of future generations, we need to make this law permanent and continue to encourage land conservation."

The conservation easement tax provision encourages landowners to protect their land from development by giving them a tax deduction equal to the land's development value. Once placed under a conservation easement, the land cannot be developed at any time in the future, even if the land is sold. However, the landowner and all future owners can continue to farm the land.

Specifically, the provision provides a tax deduction equal to the land's development value up to 50 percent of the land donor's income for all individuals except ranchers and farmers, who are capped at 100 percent of the donor's income. The deduction can be carried forward for 15 years.

Thompson and Camp's bill has received strong support from the Land Trust Alliance, National Cattleman's Beef Association, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and more than 40 other leading groups.

The bill has 22 original co-sponsors, including Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Eric Cantor (R-VA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Ben Chandler (D-KY), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Steve Israel (D-NY), Ron Kind (D-WI), Randy Kuhl (R-NY), John Lewis (D-GA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patrick Murphy (D-PA), George Radanovich (R-CA), Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and Ellen Tauscher (D-CA).