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Incentives for Conservation Easements - The Charitable Deduction or a Better Way


The Internal Revenue Code allows a charitable income-tax deduction for a “qualified conservation contribution,”1 known, more colloquially, as a conservation easement. To be eligible for the deduction, the easement must be “granted in perpetuity” to a “qualified organization, exclusively for conservation purposes.”2 The 1980 change in the tax law to codify this deduction is generally recognized as being the factor largely responsible for the tremendous growth in the donation of conservation easements.3 The Land Trust Alliance, an umbrella organization for land trusts, (like other defenders of the tax deduction) has pointed to the millions of acres now protected by conservation easements as evidence of the tax-expenditure program’s enormous success.4 What is striking, however, is that supporters make no mention of the program’s cost.

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