Congress recently renewed a tax incentive for private landowners - especially working family farmers and ranchers - who protect their land with a voluntary conservation agreement.
The incentive, which had expired at the end of 2009, helped the Central Arizona Land Trust (CALT) work with willing landowners to conserve 4,325 acres of productive agricultural lands and natural areas between 2006 and 2009.
Conservation-minded landowners now have until Dec. 31, 2011 to take advantage of a significant tax deduction for donating a voluntary conservation agreement to permanently protect important natural or historic resources on their land.
When landowners donate a conservation easement to Central Arizona Land Trust, they maintain ownership and management of their land and can sell or pass the land on to their heirs, while foregoing future development rights.
The enhanced incentive applies to a landowner's federal income tax. The incentive:
Raises the deduction a donor can take for donating a voluntary conservation agreement from 30 percent of their income in any year to 50 percent;
Allows farmers and ranchers to deduct as much as 100 percent of their income;
And increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 to 16 years.
Last year's bills to make this incentive permanent had 274 House and 41 Senate co-sponsors from all 50 states, including majorities of Democrats and Republicans in the House, according to the Land Trust Alliance, the national organization that provides a voice for land trusts in Washington, D.C.
The legislation was supported by more than 65 national agricultural, sportsmen's, and conservation organizations.
Conservation agreements have become an important tool nationally for protecting watersheds, ranches and forests, increasing the pace of private land conservation by one-third to more than a million acres a year.
"Our whole community wins when thoughtful landowners conserve their land this way, protecting wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, scenic landscapes, recreational spaces, and productive agricultural lands," CALT Board President Judy Clapp said. "The 4,296 acre CALT held W Diamond Ranch conservation easement in Skull Valley is a great example of regional land protection in action."
The mission of the Central Arizona Land Trust is to preserve and protect open space, wildlife habitat, and the scenic and cultural values of Central Arizona for future generations.