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Private conservation efforts need congressional support

Private conservation efforts need congressional support
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Our environment plays an essential role in providing a high quality of life for our country, our communities and our children. That’s why protecting it is so important. There are countless ways everyone can contribute to this mission but in recent years, land conservation has been a distinctly valuable tool for preserving the health of our environment. 

With an ever-growing population, and more and more development, conservation helps preserve scenic open spaces, protect wildlife habitats, improve water quality and safeguard important resources for future generations.

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Conservation easements, which are voluntary and legally-binding agreements that limit the future development of land forever, are a critically important tool in the effort to protect our nation’s most important land resources.

 

In 2006, Congress passed an enhanced tax incentive to encourage the use of conservation easements to protect land from future development. Thanks to this incentive, conservation of natural lands and ecosystems has boomed due to a democratization of the process in which individuals can form partnerships to acquire and donate land.

Together, individuals, family partnerships and conservation partnerships have preserved more than 20 million acres of land, roughly the size of the state of South Carolina. Congress got the incentive right. 

Conservation is expensive. And, in an era in which the government cannot fund the cost of conservation alone, private landowners are going to be critical to ensuring the private sector takes on more responsibility in maintaining a healthy balance between economic growth and our environment. 

Some want to restrict certain landowners from using the conservation easement incentive.  But without the current tax incentive, more wetlands and beachfront property will be transformed into strip malls and condos.

Conservation partnerships have protected hundreds of thousands of acres of land from development. With more lands being conserved than ever before, why would we turn back the clock on a system that has been working as intended.

That is why members of my organization are in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with lawmakers on the issue. We have developed several legislative proposals designed to bring more structure to the process of conservation easements without limiting the ability of Americans to conserve more of our natural treasures.

The current legislation is working as intended, but improvements can and should be made without losing site of the end goal — increasing land conservation. 

We should be encouraging more land conservation, not working to limit access to it. Protecting the Earth’s most valuable land resources for future generations is a goal we should all embrace, and it’s encouraging members of Congress are willing to listen.

Ryan Williams is the spokesperson for Partnership for Conservation.