One of the most critical land conservation tools we have at our disposal is at risk: the conservation easement tax incentive. This law provides federal tax benefits to landowners who conserve their land voluntarily through charitable donations to qualified conservation organizations – like us here at POST.

A relatively small number of for-profit investors are abusing the system by claiming overvalued tax deductions on donated conservation easements, thereby jeopardizing the work of qualified and reputable conservation organizations across the country. According to the latest available numbers, a sampling of these transactions shows investors claimed, on average, deductions valued at nine times the amount of their original investment, all totaling more than $20 billion in abusive claims since 2010.

It’s hard to watch as this abuse of the system threatens a program that benefits every American.

Conservation Easement Tax Incentive
This past spring, Gene and Donna Richeson donated a 102-acre agricultural conservation easement on a portion of their Double Dog Ranch. This type of land protection would be more difficult without the existing tax incentive. Photo: Matt Dolkas

This is why the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act (S. 170/H.R. 1992) is so important. This bill would eliminate the ability of investors to abuse the system and unfairly profit from the donation of conservation easements. It’s just good common sense.

The bill’s language makes clear that conservation easement donations, like other charitable donations, are not intended to be profit opportunities but are meant to incentivize conservation and make it possible for interested landowners to protect their land. The bill also includes an important and necessary exception for family partnerships.

Our mission at POST is to protect open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since our founding in 1977, one of the most important conservation tools we have used with private landowners is to record permanent conservation easements on their properties. These agreements allow farmers, ranchers, forest managers and other conservation-minded landowners to keep their land while ensuring that present and future generations benefit from the careful balance of rural and urban landscapes that makes our region extraordinary.

We recommend that you contact your local representatives and ask them to support the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, ending this abuse and making sure land conservation is valued and remains a viable option for genuine philanthropists.

For more information, please take a look at the webpage put together by our partner and accrediting organization, the Land Trust Alliance.

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About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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