Congress Passes Permanent Enhanced Tax Incentive Bill Supporting Land Conservation

Congress Passes Major Conservation Legislation to Benefit all Tennesseans

Nashville, Tenn.  (Dec. 18, 2015) – The Land Trust for Tennessee, a state-wide nonprofit land conservation organization, today praised a bipartisan congressional vote that makes permanent a federal tax incentive supporting land conservation.

Farmers, landowners 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, historic and working lands. The Land Trust for Tennessee was among the 1,100 land trusts working with The Land Trust Alliance to support the incentive through a collaborative, multi-year effort. Land conservation advocates in Tennessee watched the progress of this legislation closely because, unlike some surrounding states, there are no state tax incentives or credits for private land conservation in Tennessee.

The federal tax incentive raises the tax deductions landowners can take for donating conservation easements — from 30 percent of their adjusted gross income in any year to 50 percent. If a landowner qualifies as a farmer or rancher, then up to 100 percent of their income could be deducted. It also increases from six to 16 the number of years over which a donor can take the deduction.

This legislation is good news for Tennessee’s small family farmers, according to Gary Moore, the farmland conservation director for The Land Trust for Tennessee.

“Tennessee family farmers who keep our farmland productive, support our economy and protect the health and cultural heritage of Tennessee communities, have earned a break,” said Moore. “These enhanced tax incentives will protect Tennessee farmland by supporting the families who are the backbone of our rural economies and better enable them to pass along the farming way of life to the next generation.”

“With Tennessee’s rapid growth, the timing of this bill could not be better,” said Liz McLaurin, president of The Land Trust for Tennessee. “Land conservation benefits all Tennesseans by protecting places to grow food, opportunities for outdoor recreation, preventing sprawl and maintaining the cultural character of our communities.”

The Land Trust for Tennessee is an accredited member of the Land Trust Alliance, the national land conservation organization that led the effort 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 expired at the end of 2014 and is directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America’s natural outdoor heritage. With the enhanced incentive in place, the pace of land conservation increased by about 33 percent, exceeding one million acres per year.

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, passed down to heirs or used for other specified purposes. The lands also remain on county tax rolls, strengthening local economies.

Once signed into law, the incentive will be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2015. An earlier version of the incentive expired Dec. 31, 2014.

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.

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