Conservation Donation Tax Incentive Made Permanent

BERLIN – A bill passed this month is expected to make land conservation more attractive, particularly to Eastern Shore property owners.

As part of the America Gives More Act, Congress has made the tax incentive for conservation easement donations permanent. Kate Patton, director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, says the change is something groups like hers have been seeking for close to a decade.

“This allows more of our working families and working farmers to take advantage of charitable giving so we can protect more farmland on the shore,” she said.

According to Patton, while tax benefits have been offered in the past to those willing to donate a conservation easement, they varied. She says it was hard for potential donors to be interested when the tax breaks weren’t set in stone.

“To have some incentives you can count on is huge for land conservation,” she said.

Patton’s group works to arrange conservation easements. Typically, such an easement is an agreement between the land owner and a land trust that places certain restrictions — which vary from site to site — on the property. Those restrictions then stay with the property forever. A property owner, for example, might agree to give up subdivision rights for a piece of land. Because they’re giving up something — making a charitable donation — a tax incentive is offered in return.

“Lands placed into conservation easements continue to be farmed, grazed, hunted or used for outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation, and these lands remain on county tax rolls, strengthening local economies,” Patton said. “By entering into a conservation easement, a landowner is giving up specific rights to develop their land.”

Patton says by making the tax incentives permanent, and not something that could vary from year to year, the bill will allow groups like the Lower Shore Land Trust to give potential donors a better picture of what they can expect if they seek a conservation easement.

“There are a couple we haven’t been able to get to the table yet without being sure of what the benefit of doing this is going to be,” she said. “Now it’s a clear, defined incentive. … We all benefit when we conserve our natural resources and foster resource-based industries on the shore. Our local economies depend on a healthy, productive landscape which supports agriculture, tourism and our quality of life.”