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Conservation Tax Incentives

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Easements are among the most powerful and effective tools available for the voluntary protection of fish and wildlife habitat, agricultural lands, forests and historic resources.

A conservation easement allows a private landowner to retire development rights to his or her property to protect resources important to the public. The landowner can continue to own, manage, live and work on their property, and can leave it to their heirs. Forty-eight states have passed statutes specifically providing for the use of permanent conservation easements by private landowners.

Conservation easements are also an important tool for preventing key agricultural lands from being lost to development. Ducks Unlimited works with landowners across the country to create and take care of conservation easements. For more information on DU and conservation easements click here.

These conservation related provisions create tax incentives for private landowners that will provide tax relief for landowners who donate conservation easements, those who sell easements or land to a conservation organizations (like DU), and for those landowners that partner through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our hope is that these new tax incentives will allow more private landowners (including the ones with lower annual incomes) to afford to protect habitat essential to the future of wildlife.

Current Legislation

Fiscal Cliff
Before the 112th Congress’ final adjournment, they enacted a bill addressing the “fiscal cliff”. The “cliff” was a combination of tax increases and significant federal spending cuts due to go into effect Jan. 1-2, 2013. The bill was signed into law on Jan. 2, 2013 and addressed the expiring tax cuts by extending some, providing other tax relief, and raising taxes on certain earning levels. It also delays the mandated sequestration (federal budget cuts) until March 1, 2013. 

There are several tax provisions of significance to DU including: 

  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. 

Although it was discussed during the legislative process, there are no provisions in the law limiting charitable deductions by individuals.


Permanent Tax Incentives
Congress considered legislation in the last Congress that could further encourage the donation of conservation easements by making tax deductions permanent. Conservation easements benefit waterfowl, their habitat and related wildlife species. 

Though bills in the House and Senate received broad support, with 309 and 27 co-sponsors respectively, they were not called for a vote and will have to be re-introduced under the 113th Congress.

Below is a list of the co-sponsors of last year’s bills. If your member is on the list, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask your Senators and Representatives to continue to support such legislation. If your members are not on the list, ask them to consider supporting permanent conservation easement tax deductions.

Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act of 2011 (S.339) Co-sponsors
Sen. Max Baucus (MT)
Sen. Mark Begich (AK) 
Sen. Michael Bennet. (CO) 
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA) 
Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH) 
Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA) 
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (MD)
Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (PA) 
Sen. Thad Cochran (MS) 
Sen. Susan Collins (ME) 
Sen. Christopher Coons (DE) 
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (NY) 
Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) 
Sen. Kay Hagan (NC) 
Sen. Tom Harkin (IA) 
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) 
Sen. Carl Levin (MI) 
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (CT)
Sen. Ben Nelson (NE)
Sen. Mark Pryor (AR) 
Sen. Jack Reed (RI) 
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI)
Sen. Jon Tester (MT) 
Sen. Mark Udall (CO) 
Sen. Tom Udall (NM) 
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) 
Sen. Roger Wicker (MS)

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