After a year-long lapse that left many important conservation donations in limbo, Congress renewed an enhanced tax incentive for conservation easements that increased private land conservation by a third — to over a million acres a year.  The renewed incentive will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2011 and retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010.

Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth gave special credit to the sponsors of legislation to make this incentive permanent, Senators Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Representatives Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Eric Cantor, R-Va. “These leaders have worked hard to make sure we can continue the success this incentive has already had, protecting special places and productive working lands in hundreds of communities across the country,” Wentworth said. “The land this incentive helps protect is an investment in clean water, fresh, local food, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty.”

A broad coalition of sportsmen, outdoors enthusiasts, farmers, ranchers and national conservation groups worked together to renew the incentive and will push to make it permanent in the 112th Congress. Bills to do just that (H.R. 1831 and S. 812) have 274 House and 41 Senate co-sponsors from all 50 states, including majorities of Democrats and Republicans in the House.

By helping modest income landowners deduct the full value of their contributions, this enhanced easement incentive has increased the pace of private, voluntary land conservation by about 250,000 acres a year nationwide, and is especially important now that the latest reports show that America is losing land to development at the rate of 1.5 million acres per year.

The enhanced incentive, which applies to a landowner’s federal income tax:

• Raises the deduction a donor can take for donating a voluntary conservation agreement from 30 percent of their income in any year to 50 percent.

• Allows farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income.

• Increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 to 16 years.

Read more at: www.lta.org/easementincentive. Landowners interested in conserving their land under this provision should contact a land trust in their community: www.findalandtrust.org.