The Land Trust Alliance on Tuesday praised support that is gaining in the U.S. House for a bill that renews tax incentives for conserving land through conservation easements.

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act, introduced last year by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif), would make permanent the enhanced tax incentives created in 2006 to help landowners preserve farms, ranches, forests and historical sites in protected easements, working in partnership with land trusts – nonprofit conservation organizations.

Land trusts have conserved more than 47 million acres, an increase of roughly 10 million acres since 2005.

The bill now has 219 co-sponsors in the House, said  Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance.

The Land Trust Alliance is the national association representing 1,700 land trusts, which have more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide.

The incentive, which enabled private landowners to conserve a million acres a year, expired  Jan 1.

From a Land Trust Alliance press release:

"The enhanced incentive, first passed in 2006, has expired repeatedly since passage including the end of last year.  “This on-again, off-again incentive makes it nearly impossible to educate and encourage potential land donors to enter a conservation easement program,” said Wentworth.  “It's difficult for landowners to donate what is perhaps their largest monetary asset — the future development rights of their lands — if the threat of the end of the tax incentive is constantly looming.”
"Conservation easements set aside land at a fraction of what it would cost for the federal government to purchase and supervise the land, and the land remains on the tax rolls.  Moreover, the cost of working with private landowners to maintain these easements is born by nonprofit land trusts rather than the government.
“Conservation easements are a voluntary, market-based solution to ensure healthy food, clean waters and sustainable communities for all Americans,” Wentworth said.  “If conservation is going to be permanent, then the law that provides this important tax incentive should be as well.”
"Although the bill has a solid backing, there are a limited number of legislative days left in the Congress to get the work done.  “The enhanced conservation tax credit deserves consideration on the House floor,” Wentworth added.
"Sixty-five national organizations – including The Nature Conservancy, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society – also back the idea of making the enhanced conservation tax credit permanent.''