With the looming expiration of enhanced easement tax incentives on Dec. 31, Ducks Unlimited's Southern Region experienced a banner year for donated conservation easements, closing on approximately 16,157 acres on 13 easements in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
Based on past trends, 2012 is likely to be a less active year for conservation easements in the South and beyond, following the expiration of the enhanced incentives. However, DU and its partners remain hopeful for reauthorizing legislation.
U.S. House of Representatives bill H.R. 1964 and Senate bill S. 339 are in committee right now, with the joint goal of "[making] permanent the tax deduction for charitable contributions by individuals and corporations of real property interests for conservation purposes." But despite record recruitment of co-sponsors for these bills, Congress failed to renew the enhanced tax incentives and continues to grapple with our country's financial situation. It is unclear when these incentives will be renewed.
Donated conservation easements are an important tool for protecting habitat on private lands, and ultimately key to the health of the nation's wetlands. The enhanced tax deductions for these donations have helped DU establish more than 423 easements containing more than 362,000 acres nationwide. With a total land value of approximately $578 million, tax deductions are essential to acquiring additional high-value easements in the future.
A challenging year lies ahead for any legislation that has revenue impacts on the federal budget. DU staff continues to work with the larger conservation and land trust community to find a workable strategy for instituting permanent incentives.