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Other Voices: Extend tax benefits to save open space

Nevada County Land Trust has been successful in working with landowners to preserve more than 5,000 acres of land in Nevada, Sierra and Yuba County.

These properties range from small pristine pockets to extensive cattle ranches. In our challenging economic environment, opportunities exist for a rapid capture of land that is protected as open space forever.

As farmers expand to supply our markets with locally grown food, agricultural preserves make good economic sense. As large local ranch owners and other landowners seek to preserve their lands, conservation easements become an important tax and estate planning tool and a deterrent to selling land to developers for income. The true beneficiary of all of these important preservation tools is our community, which is able to better preserve its rural character and its traditional way of life.

But we have a problem. The federal tax incentive for conservation easements is scheduled to end this year. Nevada County Land Trust is asking for community support in extending the Tax Incentive for Conservation Easements established last year in the 2008 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419). This bill increased the maximum donation that a donor can take for a donation of a voluntary conservation agreement to 50 percent of the donor’s income (100 percent for farmers and ranchers) and extends the period to recapture such contribution to 16 years.

However, this provision of the Bill is set to expire on Dec. 31. Legislation will shortly be introduced in Congress to make these provisions permanent and the trust urges you to write Rep. Tom McClintock and Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to either support or co-sponsor these bills.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a qualified conservation organization, such as the trust, to permanently restrict its development uses and preserve it as open space or a working landscape. The easement allows the owner to continue to own and use the land and to pass it on to heirs.

It does not require any public access or use of the property if the owner does not wish. Rather, it preserves the property in its present state against future development.

The most commonly cited reason stated by Nevada County residents for staying or moving here is for the quality of life tied to the beauty of our environment. The conservation easement is an excellent tool in preserving that quality of life while allowing a landowner to realize a substantial economic benefit from the land.

If you would like to support this effort, please contact the trust at 272-5994. We will provide you with the necessary information as well as a sample letter. Help us preserve Nevada County.

Joe Byrne is board president of Nevada County Land Trust.