The Conservation Trust for North Carolina released a report, “Sprint to the Finish: The Final Days of the North Carolina Conservation Tax Credit,” documenting the public benefits provided by the state income tax credit that made it economically feasible for private landowners to conserve their family land.  The report also details the Conservation Trust’s “Money in the Ground” initiative, which provided local land trusts with private funding to complete land conservation projects that utilized the tax credit before it expired at the end of last year.  Read the report HERE.

North Carolina was the first state to establish a conservation tax credit, recognizing the importance of encouraging private lands conservation to provide clean drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat, farmland for growing fresh local foods, and recreation opportunities for North Carolinians.  Since its inception in 1983, landowners have used the tax credit to voluntarily protect more than 250,000 acres of conservation land, while leveraging six dollars in land or conservation easement donations for every dollar of tax credit granted.

When the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the Conservation Tax Credit in 2013 as part of broad tax reform legislation, a popular incentive for landowners to conserve their land was eliminated.  Coupled with reduced funding for the state’s conservation trust funds over the last six years, this decision could significantly limit future voluntary conservation of private lands, slowing efforts to protect streams, farms, forests, and scenic vistas throughout North Carolina.

In response to the repeal of the NC Conservation Tax Credit, North Carolina’s 24 local land trusts intensified efforts in the final months of 2013, collaborating with landowners to conserve as many properties as possible before the tax credit expired on January 1, 2014.  Last year, local land trusts saw an 80% increase in donated land and conservation easements over the previous year, suggesting the tax credit was a powerful motivator for private land conservation.

Another indicator of the tax credit’s importance is the success of CTNC’s “Money in the Ground” initiative, a grant program that helped local land trusts complete tax credit-eligible projects with interested landowners. This grant program provided private funding for payment of transaction costs (appraisals, surveys, legal fees, etc.) to complete land or easement donations.  Often, neither the landowner nor the land trust has funds on hand to cover these costs.  The Conservation Trust granted $1.06 million from its own funds to 16 land trusts to conserve 63 properties totaling almost 7,400 acres of natural lands, leveraging more than $28 million.

“The tax credit worked because it enabled voluntary private land conservation and provided important public benefits like clean water, parks, and fresh local foods, all at a bargain to the state,” said Reid Wilson, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.  “We urge the General Assembly to restore this successful and popular tax credit in the future