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Fiscal Cliff included important conservation extensions

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At the eleventh hour before its final adjournment, Congress passed a bill to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and the president signed it into law on Jan. 2, 2013. 

The “cliff” was a combination of tax increases and significant federal spending cuts set to automatically go into effect the first week of January 2013 if Congress wasn’t able to reach a deficit reduction agreement. The fiscal cliff was averted by an agreement that addresses the expiring tax cuts by extending some of the cuts, providing other tax relief, and raising taxes on certain earning levels. It also delays the mandated sequestration, or federal budget cuts, until March 1, 2013. 

“Important habitat conservation programs and tax deductions were extended in the fiscal cliff agreement,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “Though Ducks Unlimited can continue to restore and conserve lands under the extensions, we now turn our attention to ensuring comprehensive bills, such as a five-year Farm Bill, are passed in the 113th Congress.”

Charitable Deductions

The fiscal cliff agreement included several tax provisions of significance to DU which included: 

  1. Extending the enhanced tax deduction to private landowners for donating conservation easements on their property for tax years 2012 (retroactively) and 2013; 
  2. Creating permanent Alternative Minimum Tax relief; 
  3. Creating permanent Estate Tax relief; and,
  4. Extending the tax free distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts for charitable purposes for two years. 

Farm Bill

Also included in the fiscal cliff law is a nine-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. The extension allows for continued enrollment in the Wetlands Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program up to the existing statutory acreage cap, but doesn’t authorize additional acres. This extension was necessary in particular for WRP and GRP since the spending baseline for both programs expired Sept. 30, 2012. However, this makes it vitally important that the 113th Congress take up and pass a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill as soon as possible.

Moving Forward

Bills to reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and increase the federal duck stamp price were among those not enacted in the 112th Congress. All unfinished bills will have to be reintroduced and start anew through the legislative process now that the 113th Congress has convened.

“Given the current fiscal atmosphere, conservation programs will be at risk of not receiving adequate federal funding,” Hall said. “Habitat conservation and restoration programs create domestic jobs that can’t be exported, and contribute to our nation’s health and quality of life. It is vital for Ducks Unlimited’s staff and volunteers and our partners to convince Congress in the next two years of the importance of conservation to all citizens.” 

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