The Land Trust thanks U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer for cosponsoring the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, which is designed to halt the abuse of conservation donations.
“The land trust movement as a whole has been pushing for the changes outlined in this bipartisan legislation for a long time,” says Richard Tucker, Executive Director of Jefferson Land Trust. “That’s why we’re so grateful to Representative Kilmer for cosponsoring it.”
Representative Kilmer (left) joined Jefferson Land Trust’s Stewardship Director Erik Kingfisher (right) and other partners and volunteers for a planting event at Snow Creek Estuary Preserve on Orca Recovery Day, October 16 2021.
The Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act closes loopholes in the regulation of conservation easements, which are the most common tool Land Trusts across the nation use to help private landowners conserve their properties voluntarily. These legal agreements remove development rights from the land to ensure it remains available as forestland, working farmland, scenic open space, and/or wildlife habitat for all time.
Land Trusts often purchase these easements at fair market value; however, sometimes landowners choose to donate these easements (or a portion of the easement’s value). Landowners who do this become eligible for a charitable tax deduction based on the fair market value of the easement gift.
The vast majority of these easement donations are truly charitable, but the actions of some who exploit this incentive for profit threaten the future of these legitimate donations. According to IRS data, from 2010 to 2018 these bad actors claimed $36 billion in unwarranted charitable deductions; in 2018 alone, 296 entities took advantage of certain loopholes in the current system to claim $9.2 billion in unwarranted charitable deductions. (For perspective, the fair market value of legitimate donated conservation easements held by 1,000 reputable land trusts across the country is approximately $1 billion.) These abusive transactions jeopardize an important incentive that is key to the success of many of Jefferson Land Trust’s projects.
“The Land Trust Accreditation Commission works hard to make sure that land trusts are transparent, ethical, and use best practices in their work, so it’s vital to make sure we close those loopholes,” Richard explains. “The overwhelming majority of people who seek this tax break are acting ethically, and I would hate for that well-deserved incentive to be taken away.”
By passing the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, Congress can ensure that this abuse is curtailed without removing this tax incentive for landowners who engage out of a genuine desire to protect land. Representative Kilmer has long been an active partner and advocate in support of local land conservation, and we applaud him for taking a leadership role in this important legislation.
A 2015 tour of Chimacum Ridge with Congressman Derek Kilmer and County Commissioner Kate Dean.
Richard says, “Representative Kilmer has always shown a deep interest in conservation on the Olympic Peninsula. He comes to site visits and has gotten involved with environmental cleanup and restoration projects as a volunteer. When it comes to our working forestlands, agricultural lands, and habitat, he shows up.”
He recalls taking Representative Kilmer on a tour of Chimacum Ridge many years ago. It was bitterly cold and rainy, but that didn’t dampen Kilmer’s spirits. “I was impressed by that,” Richard states. “I’d like to thank Representative Kilmer for his dedication to conservation and for his help protecting the lands we all love.”
“In fact, we’re very lucky in our region,” continues Richard. “In addition to Representative Kilmer’s support for conservation at the federal level, we also benefit from excellent support at the state level from Representative Champan, Representative Tharinger, and Senator Van De Wege — all of whom who have been extremely helpful in our current effort to acquire Chimacum Ridge as a community forest.”