Congress must act in ‘lame duck’ session

Tens of thousands of acres of New York state farms, forests, working lands and scenic open spaces will be forever lost unless Congress makes permanent a bipartisan tax incentive for conservation before the end of the year.

Scenic landscapes and working lands in the Hudson Valley are under pressure as never before. These lands are part of our history, our character and our way of life. Here, in the Hudson Highlands, tourism and outdoor recreation generate economic benefits and support job growth. They also bolster cultural resources and business sectors alike, safeguarding the region’s quality of life. Large, connected natural areas protect resources like clean drinking water, fish and wildlife from the risks of over-development.

Voluntary conservation agreements are the least expensive way to preserve our communities’ character by keeping historic landscapes in their natural state and protecting working lands forever, ensuring these outdoor treasures are not inappropriately subdivided or exploited.

This method allows private landowners to exchange or diminish their development rights for a federal tax deduction and a limited New York state income tax credit. They continue to pay property and school taxes on the conserved land at the same rate they did before the easement donation.

The Hudson Highlands Land Trust is focused on conserving our communities’ irreplaceable lands, clean water and cultural heritage. Since the beginning of 2007 when Congress first passed temporary enhanced federal tax incentives, HHLT has partnered with private landowners on 34 conservation agreements, forever protecting 1,212 acres throughout the Hudson Highlands, more than doubling the acres we preserved in the previous 18 years. In the 25 years since our founding, the Land Trust has accepted 80 conservation agreement donations, bringing the total number of acres protected to 2,144.

Right now, conservation projects in our community are hanging in the balance. Without enhanced federal tax incentives for conservation agreement donations, local landowners may be forced to sell their lands, and everyone loses when clean water, fresh air, natural beauty and open spaces disappear, and local taxes go up. Once these landscapes are gone, they are gone forever.

Saving land is a shared, bipartisan American value. The current “lame duck” session of Congress, which concludes no later than Christmas, provides an opportunity for concerned citizens to contact their representatives and urge them to make this vital conservation tax incentive permanent. Bipartisan legislation passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

A permanent tax incentive would represent the most significant conservation victory for New York and the nation this century. We are closer than we have ever been before; Congress must not leave until it votes to enact a permanent land conservation tax incentive.

Andy Chmar
Executive Director
Hudson Highlands Land Trust

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Type: Opinion

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