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Trust Our Land: New bipartisan legislation aims to expand conservation in Colorado

by Bergen Tjossem

New bipartisan legislation aims to increase the incentives for landowners interested in conserving their land.
Eaglevalleywild.org/Courtesy photo

What would our community look like without protected open spaces? What would it feel like? Imagine your day or week without your favorite nature trail near your home or office. That special place where you can take your dog before work, take your children for a stroll, or enjoy some peaceful solitude. 

Our Eagle Valley Land Trust team talks to a lot of local folks about the open spaces they depend on. Often, these spaces aren’t the challenging and spectacular trails of East Vail or the backcountry loops in the White River National Forest. They’re the ones closer to home like the Eagle River Preserve Open Space, Abrams Creek Open Space, West Avon Preserve, or Brush Creek Valley Ranch & Open Space. The ones people get to enjoy every day, not just on the weekends. 

Conserved land is popular here. That’s the case for the rest of Colorado, too. Recent polling revealed that 83% of Colorado voters feel that more needs to be done to protect land, water, and wildlife habitat in the state. Eighty-seven percent said that protecting land and water in Colorado is critical to keeping the state’s economy strong, and four out of five agree that conservation supports the state’s economy and jobs. 

A 2023 CSU Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics report estimates that for every $1 Colorado invests in conservation, the public receives between $31 and $49 in economic return. In a tourism-heavy economy like Eagle County, those returns add up quickly. 

Conservation Easement Program

Conservation easements, voluntary legal agreements between landowners and land trusts like EVLT that permanently limit development, are some of the best and most durable conservation tools in existence. Landowners and land trusts have permanently protected over 3 million acres across the state with conservation easements. Eagle Valley Land Trust has permanently protected over 14,000 acres locally, or nearly 22 square miles.

Over the past few years, Colorado’s Conservation Easement Tax Credit program, which provides tax benefits to landowners who voluntarily, permanently conserve their land with easements, has been growing thanks to strong bipartisan support throughout the state. The program has been so popular, in fact, that the $45 million incentive cap has quickly been reached each year of the program’s existence.

This year, that cap was reached in the first week of January. According to the aforementioned CSU report, the total cumulative impact of conservation easement tax credits to Colorado taxpayers is estimated to be between $35 billion and $57 billion, or about $20,000 per acre conserved.

Last week, a bill to expand and extend Colorado’s Conservation Easement Tax Credit program was introduced in the State Senate. Senate Bill 24-126, sponsored by Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Reps. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, and Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, aims to build upon the immense success of the tax credit program by raising the tax credit cap to $75 million from the current $45 million to meet the current conservation demand and expand the state’s conservation reach. It also proposes to eliminate the expiration dates of the Conservation Easement Oversight Commission and the Certified Holder program.

“The Conservation Easement Tax Credit program is an unsung hero in our fight for a healthy, resilient, equitable and beautiful Colorado,” Winter said. “Our bipartisan bill will extend and expand the program so that Coloradans can play a role in protecting biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and supporting local economies for generations to come.”

“Colorado is a state made of special places — it always has been, and it’s up to us to make sure that it always will be,” Will said. “I’m proud to be sponsoring this bill that will protect habitats and empower more Coloradans to preserve the land that we all call home.”

Polling found that 86% of Colorado voters support the state legislature continuing tax incentives for conservation easements, and 73% support increasing the $45 million cap on the tax incentives that help protect more land in the state. 

What would the passing of Senate Bill 24-126 mean for Eagle County? It would increase the incentives available for local landowners to protect their land. That means more conservation opportunities, leading to more permanently protected lands that will benefit our wildlife, our community, and every generation that comes next. 

“You can help us advance conservation by contacting your legislators expressing your support for this bill” said Jessica Foulis, EVLT’s executive director. “When writing to your legislators, be sure to include your personal story about how you and your loved ones have benefited from conservation in Eagle County and the beautiful spaces our people and our wildlife call home.”

Contact information for Colorado legislators is available at Find Your Legislator.

Bergen Tjossem is the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s deputy director. He can be reached at bergen@evlt.org. To learn more about EVLT’s conservation work, community-focused conservation efforts, and how to get involved, visit their new website at http://www.evlt.org

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