Trust Our Land: State legislature renews, enhances land conservation incentives
By Jim Daus
Land conservation continues to unite Colorado. With change and population growth comes the need to protect the landscapes, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities that help make our state such an outstanding place to live and explore. Colorado voters and state representatives have once again reaffirmed their commitment to conservation by renewing and enhancing the benefits of the program.
On May 3, Colorado’s Senate and House of Representatives passed HB19-1264, which extends (for seven years) the Colorado conservation easement tax credit program, an incentive that compensates landowners when they permanently protect their land for the benefit of the public and wildlife.
In addition to the tax credit program’s extension, the bill also refines the conservation easement process that will help eliminate bottlenecks and increase efficiency and transparency. The tax credit limit per donation has been more than tripled from $1.5 million to $5 million, which will help the families of large landowners be more fairly compensated for conserving their property. You can see the details of the bill here.
Eagle County Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan were co-sponsors of the bill, which passed the state House of Representatives and state Senate with overwhelming support. Keep it Colorado, the state coalition of land trusts, and its board members, were instrumental in stewarding the passage of this bill to protect the lands we love in Colorado. Gov. Jared. Polis is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks.
A commitment to conservation
The incentive program, along with other funding like Great Outdoors Colorado lottery funds, and our local Eagle County Open Space, has helped Colorado families conserve over 3 million acres across the state, including the 11,200 acres conserved by the Eagle Valley Land Trust in Eagle County.
The tax credit is an incentive for protecting private land for wildlife and the benefit of public. When a landowner decides they want to permanently protect their property, they can donate the development rights to a qualified land trust like the Eagle Valley Land Trust. By ceding development rights, the market value of the landowner’s property decreases. The Colorado conservation easement tax credit program offers these landowners tax credits for approximately 50% of that drop in value. These tax credits can be used by the landowner or sold for cash to another person or business.
The value of conservation easements to the public comes from the permanence they guarantee. These agreements, of which the Eagle Valley Land Trust holds 36, protect forever wildlife habitat, recreational access, scenic open space, and agricultural heritage. The protection of these attributes are tremendous public benefits.
A recent study by Colorado State University found the return on every dollar of state funding invested in conservation to be worth $4-12 to each of us. Because the natural beauty of our community is why people live here and why people visit, protection of these lands also supports the backbone of our recreation-based economy.
Landowners who donate a conservation easement to the Eagle Valley Land Trust see altruistic value beyond financial incentives. They see value in protecting their land for its aesthetic and physical attributes. They take pride in making this gift to their community and leaving a legacy of conservation for all future generations. The incentive program simply makes conservation a financially viable option for more landowners.
Conservation is an initiative that Coloradans, especially Eagle County residents, support. Eagle County residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the local open space mill levy that helps protect land for the community. The success of the Colorado conservation tax credit program is a clear indication that our local state representatives, especially Sen. Donovan and Rep. Roberts, are listening.
Jim Daus is the executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for our community. To learn more about the the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s conservation efforts and to donate, visithttp://www.evlt.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.