Recently, some have tried to make the case that the federal tax deduction for conservation easement donations is not a good economic investment for American taxpayers. The reality is that the donation of conservation easements on private land has been a successful and efficient way to protect open space for decades.
Locally, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) has used conservation easements to preserve thousands of acres of land over the past 25 years. In 2013 alone, HHLT used conservation easements to partner with seven private landowners and fellow conservation organizations, and preserve 287 acres in Philipstown, and 38 acres in Highland Falls.
Privateland conservation is an inexpensive way to protect land, costing about 5 percent of what the federal or New York State governments pay to buy land. Conservation easements keep land in private ownership and on the local tax rolls. When donating an easement, landowners give up a major asset — the future development rights of their land — while exercising their right to make decisions concerning their property. They continue to pay property and school taxes on the conserved land at the same rate they did before the easement donation.
The donation of a conservation easement and the consequent Federal tax deduction available to the landowner are strictly regulated. The IRS requires that conservation easements meet a rigorous set of standards to be eligible for a deduction. HHLT is a “qualified organization” authorized by the Internal Revenue Code to accept conservation easement donations.
HHLT is also accredited by both the independent Land Trust Accreditation Commission and New York Better Business Bureau, certifying that the Land Trust operates in a way that ensures the preservation of conserved land in perpetuity.
Tourism and outdoor recreation in the Hudson Valley generate economic benefits, support job growth, protect natural resources from the risks of over-development, and bolster cultural resources and business sectors alike, which provide good local jobs, safeguard the Hudson Valley’s quality of life, and ensure clean drinking water. Voluntary conservation agreements are the least expensive way to help achieve these positive outcomes for Hudson Valley communities.
Private land conservation makes economic and environmental sense. Encouraging the 113th Congress to pass current legislation that would make the enhanced tax incentives for conservation easement donations permanent is one of the many ways we can continue to keep the Hudson Valley beautiful and prosperous, for ourselves and future generations.
Hudson Highlands Land Trust