The giant compromise spending plan and tax policies that President Obama signed into law on December 18 include two key victories that will result in more natural lands being protected in the coming years.
The budget deal makes PERMANENT a set of enhanced federal tax deductions for landowners who donate a lasting conservation agreement on their land. These agreements protect clean water, family farms, and wildlife habitat by preventing development on the properties. Congress had been extending the enhanced deductions most years on an annual basis, but now that the incentives are permanent, landowners will have more certainty as they plan how to conserve their family lands. Conservation organizations across the country have been pushing for this tax law change for a decade. The result will be safer drinking water, cleaner air, more fresh local foods, and more open space!
In addition, the bill restores the Land and Water Conservation Fund for three years and increases its funding level from $306 million to $450 million. Congress had allowed this incredibly successful 50-year program to expire this fall, but the spending bill brings it back to life. The LWCF has helped fund creation and protection of hundreds of federal, state, and local parks and wildlife areas all across the country. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are just two of the North Carolina treasures that have received LWCF funding to acquire high priority lands. The increased funding will mean more parks, trails, and wildlife refuges in all 50 states!
While we would have preferred a permanent reinstatement for LWCF, the three-year authorization gives us (and you) time to educate our congressional delegation about why it’s essential to restore the program long-term. A key point is that LWCF has never been a hit to the budget – the funding comes from royalties from offshore oil and gas exploration. Senator Richard Burr has been the Senate champion on this issue, and we thank him for his dogged persistence in resuscitating the program.