As we congratulate the Florida Water and Land Legacy campaign on successfully getting an amendment on the November 2014 ballot to keeping Florida’s water clean and protecting other natural areas, we look back at a 2011 essay by Samantha Ruiz from the IDEAS Board of Directors who highlights how important the issue of land conservation has been, and remains to be in the state of Florida.

Read the article below.

Conservation Counts: How to Sustain Tax Incentives for Conservation Easements to Protect our Natural Lands

The future of land conservation and ecosystem preservation efforts will focus on private lands. Although nearly 60 percent of the land in the United States is privately owned, most of the efforts toward protecting ecosystems and preserving biodiversity has been targeted towards the 30 percent of the land owned by the federal government and until now it has been proved that it is easier to influence what happens on land owned by the government than land owned by the people.

However, since 2006, an enhanced income tax deduction has allowed family famers, ranchers, and other moderate-income landowners to get a sizeable tax benefit for donating a conservation easement on their land.

Conservation easements allow private landowners to permanently retire development rights to protect significant natural resources and eco-systems. The enhanced conservation easement tax incentive has opened doors to voluntary conservation efforts on millions of acres of wildlife habitat and natural areas. A survey by the Land Trust Alliance shows that this incentive helped America’s 1,700 land trusts increase the pace of conservation by a third to over a million acres a year. Here in Florida, there are now more than 150,000 acres that are now protected by conservation easements.

With so many benefits for landowners and support from both parties in Congress, the enhanced conservation easement tax was renewed, however it is expected to expire at the end of 2011.

At this time, especially in Florida, if this initiative is not renewed our hopes for sustaining what is left of our natural lands is slim to none. Programs such as Florida Forever have been cut and monies that funded other programs for land conservation do not have any extra to spare. Therefore, enacting this tax incentive permanently is critical.

In order to make this federal income tax benefit permanent and continue to spur the protection of millions of acres across the country, two bills must pass in the Senate and the House of Representatives. SB 339 and HR 1964, more commonly known as Companion Bills, identical in content, offer the solution that we need to protect our natural lands and wildlife nationwide for good.

Currently, as of today, SB 339 has 9 co-sponsors, which are senators who have said they will vote for this bill. HR 1964 has 259 House Members who are co-sponsors. Since HR 1964 has over half of the House members as sponsors (259/435), concerned citizens of Florida need to concentrate on gaining support from our two Florida Senators who do not currently support the bill.

As challenging as this may seem, it is going to take educated and informed individuals, like yourselves, to emphasize to our elected officials that Florida and the rest America truly wants and needs permanent protection of our natural lands without any hesitation.

– Samantha Ruiz
IDEAS for Us