Historic Permanent Land Conservation Incentive Passes House of Representatives
By Timothy S. Jacobson
~The Nonprofit Provocateur~
“Let us leave a splendid legacy for our children. Let us turn to them and say, ‘This you inherit; guard it well, for it is far more precious than money and once destroyed, nature … cannot be repurchased at any price.’”
— Ansel Adams
The Dust Bowl years of the 1930s forcefully bonked our farmer-ancestors over the head in demonstrating how vulnerable the ruggedly beautiful landscape is to loss of good soil through erosion. The Coon Creek Watershed in Vernon County, Wis. led as our nation’s first soil conservation program, which demonstrated to the rest of the country how to better care for precious farmland.
Today, with overwhelming economic pressures on farmers driven largely by spiking corn and soybean prices coupled with a high percentage of absentee landowners, the lessons of the past of century sometimes are forgotten, and our fragile landscape again is put at risk. Ephemeral farmland conservation programs are not sufficient, by themselves, to assist farmers and ranchers in protecting the long-term viability of our food production capabilities.
One of the most valuable tools we have today to ensure good stewardship of our fields, pastures and forests is a permanent, voluntary conservation easement that nonprofit land trusts can work out with private landowners.
But many farmers cannot afford to relinquish the future development potential of their farmland without enhanced income tax incentives, which help tip the balance toward more sustainable farming practices. We’ve had such incentives in place since 2006 to great effect. Unfortunately, Congress allowed the incentive legislation to expire no less than four times over the past seven years, only to be renewed retroactively the following year in two-year increments. This seesawing of legislation inhibits the ability of farmers to engage in long-term planning for their land. The incentive has been gone since January 1st and will stay that way unless Congress acts.
Without an incentive in place and assured, many of the gifts of conservation easements the incentives were intended to promote will simply not take place. The time to plan and execute the gifts will have already passed by. Good farmland may get sold off and abused when otherwise it could have been conserved. A survey by the Land Trust Alliance showed that this incentive helped 1,700 land trusts increase the pace of conservation by a third – to over a million acres a year. Our hardworking farmers deserve this incentive to continue to be able to steward the land now and for countless generations into the future.
For all these reasons, I urge citizens to express support for legislation to permanently reinstate this critical charitable incentive. Fortunately, the House of Representatives did a great thing today in passing H.R. 2807, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act.
The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity for the conservation tax incentive, including its passage by the Ways & Means Committee 23-14, with, for example, all Republicans in favor. This is a historic first for the incentive--no bill to make it permanent had ever come before the committee. Several committee members, including retiring champions Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), spoke glowingly about the need to make it permanent.
This success is due to broad, bipartisan support for conserving working farms and forests and protecting habitat through private, voluntary means, as is done with charitable land trusts working with individual landowners. A whopping 222 members of Congress—a majority—co-sponsored this important legislation. I want to thank these legislators for their long-term thinking and leadership. I also want to thank the Land Trust Alliance for its tireless work over the past eight years to make the incentive permanent.
Now, we move to the Senate where the conservation community has many friends eager to make this into law.
In an era of Congressional gridlock and do-nothing government, I can think of no other issue that is so unifying. Passage of the legislation is the right thing to do. We just need to get it done. We are one step closer to making the incentive permanent, but we now need to convince Senate leadership that this is a priority for their members.
As we consider public policy affecting our future, it’s important to reflect on lessons of the past. President Theodore Roosevelt well explained a critical lesson of conservation when, on April 15, 1907, he said in a message to the school-children of the United States:
“We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted...So any nation which in its youth lives only for the day, reaps without sowing, and consumes without husbanding, must expect the penalty of the prodigal whose labor could with difficulty find him the bare means of life.”
Let’s not give our children a reason to reproach us for our treatment of the earth. Let’s instead provide them with a reason to express gratitude for our wisdom and selflessness.
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Tim Jacobson, CEO of Visjonær Consulting, has served as a board member and executive of a variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations over the past two decades. He's author of the book Explosive Marketing for Nonprofits: Trajectory for Success, to be released in 2014, the executive producer of a documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS, and author of Amazon best-selling thriller The Kurchatov Penetration. He has been featured dozens of times by TV and radio stations, magazines and newspapers for his organizational consulting, filmmaking, writing, conservation and legal work and for his exploration of international justice and peace issues.
This article is copyright (c) 2014, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.