The Gallatin Valley Land Trust is praising a bipartisan congressional vote that makes permanent a federal tax incentive supporting land conservation.
Farmers, ranchers and the public will directly benefit from the incentive that encourages landowners to place a conservation easement on their land to protect important natural, scenic and historic resources. GVLT was among the 1,100 land trusts to support the incentive through a collaborative, multi-year campaign that makes permanent the tax incentives first created in 2006.
Here in the Gallatin Valley, the Leep family faced the challenge of transferring a family farm property to the next generation. They were committed to keeping the property in the family and in agricultural production, but the rising property values and estate taxes made this financially challenging. They decided to partner with GVLT to put a conservation easement on their land in 2010.
“A lot of factors went into the decision, but what made a difference at the end of the day were the enhanced tax benefits,” said Churchill farmer Sherwin Leep. The enhanced tax incentives have allowed families like the Leeps to deduct up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income over a longer period of time, making the option to conserve their land much more feasible. The recent vote has made this tax incentive permanent and will help accelerate the pace of conservation in the Gallatin Valley and surrounding areas.
GVLT is a member of the Land Trust Alliance, the national land conservation organization that led the campaign for permanence.
“The importance of this vote – and this incentive – cannot be overstated,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president. “This is the single greatest legislative action in decades to support land conservation. It states, unequivocally, that we as a nation treasure our lands and must conserve their many benefits for all future generations.”
In a strong bipartisan action, the House voted 318-109 and the Senate voted 65-33 to pass the bills that included the tax incentive.
First enacted as a temporary provision in 2006, the incentive is directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America’s natural outdoor heritage. The incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who sign a conservation easement. Such private, voluntary agreements with local land trusts permanently limit uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Lands placed into conservation easements can continue to be farmed, hunted or used for other specified purposes, and the land can be sold or passed onto heirs. The lands also remain on county tax rolls, strengthening local economies.
“Since these tax incentives were first created in 2006, GVLT has completed 41 conservation projects on 18,914 acres of land – representing 43% of our total conservation easements in just one third of our existence,” said Penelope Pierce, Executive Director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “These benefits help to increase the pace of land conservation in the Gallatin Valley tremendously, making conservation projects more feasible for our community’s working farmers and ranchers.”
The incentive advanced through Congress as part of the America Gives More Act, a package of tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. It passed the House earlier this year, 279-137. A standalone version of the incentive, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, earned 52 Senate sponsors this year, including 26 Democrats, 24 Republicans and 2 Independents. The agreement announced this week additionally encourages donations to food banks and facilitates charitable deductions from IRAs.