Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Monday, February 28, 2005

News from North Dakota

The things you learn....
North Dakota's legislature has been looking at allowing conservation easements of differing lengths... So far, it's not looking too good.
From the Grand Forks Herald round-up of legislative activity...
" HB1472: Conservation easements. (Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo; Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo) Voted down in the House (74-15). Changes laws about conservation easements to allow easements of more than 99 years for land in counties contiguous to the Red River, Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea or Lake Oahe."
And then there were these non-trust items that may only interest me.
"SCR4021: Resolution on Cuban travel. (Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck; Rep. Berg) Senate passed Feb. 11; pending in House agriculture committee. Urges Congress to allow U.S. travel to Cuba and to allow direct banking transfers for the purchase of U.S. made products by Cuba. The Legislature notes it "is anticipated" that North Dakota sales of ag products to Cuba "could surpass $37.8 million annually and provide employment for more than 1,000 individuals."
"SCR4017: Resolution on CAFTA and sugar. (Sen. Russell Thane, R-Wahpeton; Rep. Belter) Adopted Feb. 8; pending in House agriculture committee. Urges Congress to block the Central American Free Trade Agreement until there is a "guarantee" that the "domestic sugar industry will not suffer economic harm" as a result of it."
"HB1492: Hemp seed repository. (Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock; Sen. Erbele) Passed House (87-3). Senate committee hearing Feb. 24. Specifies that NDSU researchers can conduct baseline research "including production and processing in conjunction with the research centers of the state." It says the center may collect "feral hemp seed stock and develop appropriate adapted strains of industrial hemp which contain less than 3/10 of one percent of tetrahydrocannabinol in the dried flowering tops."
"HB1331: Organic weed control. (Rep. Brandenburg; Sen. Erbele) Failed (1-91) in House. Would have required county weed officers to spray herbicides, if necessary, to control weeds on organic farms where weed complaints are verified."
So that's Si to Cuba, No to CAFTA, you betcha to hemp (if it doesn't have too much THC) and organic farms stay organic, even if they have weeds.
And back the the trusts for a moment... Andrea Erickson is the new state director for Wyoming for The Nature Conservancy.
This nice write-up in the Casper Tribune notes the big change from her previous job.. a decade working for conservation in Central America. And hey Jon Christensen, Ms. Erickson also likes "the radical center".

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Washington Post Catches Up

I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but yesterday Nature Noted had a visitor from the Washington Post. And this morning
this article Charities Fight for Easement Donors/ Preservation Groups Target Legislators in Move to Save Tax Breaks appears. (Thanks for the tip to a sharp eyed reader) The Post outlines the LTA plan to fight the conservation easement, but somehow makes it seem a little more sordid, with emphasis on Republican lobbyists and targeting childhood friends of legislators. But, it's accurate and references all the source material. The article is by Joe Stephens, who has been writing or co-writing many of the articles investigating the abuses of conservation easements. Curiously, he didn't quote anyone from LTA about the strategy, just basically reposted from the source material much of what you've previously read here. Hey Joe, if you got that stuff from Nature Noted, how about a little credit next time?
Either way, it's off the blogs and listservs, and now into the Mainstream Media. I'll be curious to see where it goes from there.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Open Land and the Suburbs

This will be a long posting and fairly specialized, but I thought avid readers here might be interested, so here we go.

Call for Papers
Finding Space in the Suburbs
July 25th–27th, 2005
A two-day conference examining open space issues and opportunities accompanying suburban landscape change.
Finding Space in the Suburbs is sponsored by the Green Space Institute , Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University and the College of
Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Conference Theme
Contemporary suburban landscapes reflect diverse economic, demographic and social realities. Aging first-tier suburbs are now embedded within large metropolitan areas, while newer auto-dependent exurbs continue to develop outward. As capital moves between urban and exurban centers, many older suburbs face disinvestment, while others remain prosperous. Landscape patterns are affected by these shifting factors. The purpose of this conference is to examine the effects of changing realities on the quality of suburban open spaces; and how access to quality open space affects the lives of suburban dwellers.
Conference Program
This two-day conference features invited plenary speakers, and peer-reviewed conference papers submitted by academics and practicing professionals focused on the varying roles, impacts and changing realities of open space in the suburban landscape.
We invite participants from a variety of disciplines including landscape architecture, planning, geography, architecture, economics and related fields to submit paper proposals on a range of issues affecting the quality of suburban open space. Topics should span the range of planning tools and principles, ethics, law, social justice, environmental impacts and economics including:
The design of open space in a multi-cultural and diverse economic region
The tools and practice of open space preservation and restoration in the suburbs
The economic impacts of open space in the development and redevelopment of the suburbs
The impacts of transportation systems on open space resources
Open space access, equity and social justice
The open space needs of a diverse population
Differing cultural concepts of open space
Capital mobility and landscape change
Density and infill development and its effect on open space
Regional differences in suburban development patterns and resulting
Changes in open space patterns
Patterns of development at rural/suburban urban/suburban interfaces and how this effects open space resources
Effects of metropolitan growth management strategies on suburban open space
The role of open space in the protection of water resources and quality
Abstract Submission
The deadline for abstract submission is March 28th, 2005. Please
submit the following to tamara shapiro (
Abstract of no more than 400 words in Word format, 12 point Times Roman font, with the paper title at the top of the page. Please do not include your name or any identifying personal information on this page to ensure blind peer review.
Author affiliation (name, organization, email, telephone number and address) on a separate page, with the title of the abstract. Brief author biography of no more than 100 words.
Presentations and Proceedings
Abstracts will be selected for development into full papers through a process of double blind peer review. Full papers will be peer reviewed after the conference and will be published in conference proceedings. Selected papers will be published in a special edition of an international peer-reviewed journal.
Conference Location
Utah State University is located in Logan, just 85 miles north of Salt Lake City International Airport. Nearby attractions include Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake and numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation such as camping, mountain biking, fishing, and boating, in the surrounding mountain ranges. The Wasatch range, with excellent hiking, abuts campus, with National Forest trails as close as 15 minutes away.
28 March: Abstracts due.
29 April: Notification of abstract acceptance and revisions required.
30 May: Final version of abstract due.
25 — 27 July: Conference.
31 August: Draft paper due for peer review and selection for publication.

Contact Information:
Tamara Shapiro

Editor's note: If you made it to the bottom of this, you really should enter.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Wedding at Emiquon

The partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service was made official Monday. The first test case is Emiquon on the Illinois River. And as in every new marriage, there were plenty of speeches and plans for the future.
This day, I would characterize as back to the future," said U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, of efforts to restore Emiquon to its former condition. LaHood was one of the dignitaries to speak at the ceremony. Bruce Knight, chief of the National Resources Conservation Service, said the agreement creates a framework for other states to follow in setting up government-private partnerships. The conservancy and the conservation service must now work together on management decisions, including whether to reconnect Emiquon to the Illinois River. Historically, the river flowed through Thompson and Flag Lakes at certain times of year, and the conservancy wants to establish a "managed connection" that will let in fish and other organisms that move between the main channel and backwater areas to complete their life cycles. Critics have said connecting the river will just let in sediment, pollution and exotic species like Asian carp. Full coverage here and here. And just like in the movies, there's always someone who doesn't think the two should get together. The headline tells it all TNC and NRSC Join Forces – Bad News for Constitutional Rights.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Sustaining Sustainable Forestry

One of the common themes of most of the recent deals I've seen between states or land trusts and timber companies has been an insistence on "sustainable forestry" as a condition for paying for conservation easement fees. Usually the timber company agrees to certain practices that enables the company to make money, while minimizing soil erosion and clear cutting. One of the largest such experiments in the country is feeling some growing pains. Editorials in The Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle paint a differing picture on the extent of the growing pains. But what is clear is this.... Pacific Lumber is trying to get out from a big debt, and it's having a problem doing that under the sustainable forestry terms that it agreed to, in exchange for $481 million in tax dollars just six years ago. Pacific Lumber leaders are warning that unless they get some relief from the rules they agreed to, the company might declare bankruptcy, and then all bets are off. But Pacific Lumber has a less than stellar reputation in California, and many wonder if it's just another bluff. Caught in between are the people who depend upon Pacific Lumber for their livelihoods. As the Los Angeles Times points out...
"The demise of Pacific Lumber — with its own town and the world's largest privately owned groves of ancient redwoods — would strike Humboldt County like a 300-foot redwood toppling to the forest floor. Pacific Lumber remains the biggest taxpayer and private employer, with friends and former employees in key places in county government and the state Capitol. The company supports charities and community affairs — and offers college scholarships to employees' children."
Are the rules at fault? Is bad management by the company to blame? Both? How sustainable is sustainable forestry? Pacific Lumber seems to be a big test case.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Here come the Audits

Here's one way to crack down on conservation easement cheaters. Catch 'em. South Carolina and the IRS have begun audits on conservation easement deductions claimed in that state. A spot check so far is showing signs of widespread inflated assessments.
" Burnie Maybank, director of the S.C. Department of Revenue, said he believes some S.C. developers are writing off swamp and marsh where homes could never be built — or claiming land values equivalent to those of the nation’s best real estate. The department recently completed an audit of 51 conservation easements, a total of 32,000 acres, donated over a three-year period. It found that property owners had estimated a value of $255 million on donated land, though not all of that value was claimed on tax returns. By comparison, the state collected about $420 million in corporate taxes over that period. “We were shocked by the amount of money” involved, Maybank said. Spend some money enforcing audits on cheaters, and the number of illegitimate deductions will drop.
In non-easement news, The Nature Conservancy and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service" will formally announce Monday a nationwide collaboration on natural resource based projects. The announcement will be made near Emiquon, which has been TNC's pilot project to return the Illinois river floodplain to its natural state. The USDA will contribute $10.7 million towards the project. Once upon a time Emiquon was an area so rich in natural wildlife that the ducks needed an avian version of air traffic control to be able to take off from the lake. The area had been drained by a series of canals for farmland. But now the farms are mostly gone, and TNC and the government have been working to make Emiquon a large scale experiment in conversion back to nature.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Back soon

Sorry for the lack of blogging. A fine combination of a cold, selling a house and February sweeps have combined to make blogging a little difficult. Nature Noted should be up and running again this weekend.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Battle Plan

This is the letter sent to Land Trust Leaders last week by LTA President Rand Wentworth, outlining the plan to fight the loss of the conservation easement deduction. It looks as though the troops are being mobilized.

"To all leaders in conservation:
We recently alerted you to a proposal by the Joint Committee on Taxation to drastically cut back tax benefits for conservation donations -- donations of land, donations of conservation easements, and bargain sales (the details can be seen at  
We need to immediately to generate overwhelming opposition to this approach , so that Congress realizes that they can't adopt it without harming the people who vote for them.
Why Your Actions Are Critical
LTA has been working hard to discredit the Joint Committee's recommendations.  But we urgently need your help -- because local land trusts and their local allies have the best opportunity to demonstrate to Congressmen and Senators that the people they represent would be hurt by them.  Every email/letter/phone call to your own Senators and Congressional Representatives will help in that.   We have posted on our website draft messages and our recommendations for ways you can use your board, your volunteers, and your donors in this effort.  I want to thank those people who have already written, and who are taking the initiative to get others to write.

Here's how you can help:

1. Write Letters
We need you to generate local input to all Members of Congress, particularly the key members, about the local consequences of the JCT proposals. Start by asking your board members, landowners, donors and members to send a letter opposing the proposal and promoting private land conservation. We have posted the tools you need on our web site .
2. Arrange Visits with Key Leaders
We need to have in-person lobbying  of key Congressional leaders by local conservation leaders, local government officials, the DC representatives of the national conservation organizations that are members of LTA, and by LTA's staff, faculty and associates.  LTA and your State Service Center (if you have one) will help you arrange these meetings.  Contact Christen Linke Young at for assistance.  Key leader meetings are paramount. (see list on
Some Members of Congress are more influential than others.  A list of the Senators and Congresspersons we most need to influence is posted here   If you or your supporters have a close relationship with any of them, please email Christen Young at with that information.  We will help land trusts organize visits with these key members over the next month in DC  or in their home districts either, on weekends or during the February 21-25 Congressional recess.
3. Identify Partners
We are recruiting people and organizations who aren't land trusts, but share an interest in our work, to make statements opposing what the Joint Committee has proposed .  That includes outreach to Governors, sportsmen's and wildlife conservation organizations, agricultural organizations, state governments, and federal conservation agencies.   We are doing that in Washington, DC -- and its something that you can do, with the people and organizations you work with locally .  Email these names or contacts to us at .
4. Educate Members of Congress Continually
Building on this work to ensure that every Senator and Congressperson knows and values the work of land trusts .  This is not an overnight task.  It will require us providing training, materials and motivation to every land trust in the country to develop strong relationships with their elected representatives.
5. Media
We are also working to build a long-term plan to increase public recognition of the value of the work of land trusts .  It is important to place positive conservation stories in your local newspaper and try to get your editorial board to write an endorsement of conservation easement and land trusts.  Here is the link ( to a newsletter template that you can use for your newsletter on current challenges to private conservation.  Currently we are working with the media people at The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Trust for Public Land, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Institute, and The Conservation Fund on a short term media plan.  By next week, we will have additional guidance and tools for you to use...stay tuned.
What LTA Has Done To Date
We have spoken with the staff of the Senate Finance Committee about the report.  We have built strong relationships there over the past year, and that is paying off now.  We have met with key people in the White House and the Department of Interior to alert them and ask their help in opposing this.
1. Building Consensus and Organization
I had a conference call with the CEOs of The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, American Farmland Trust, The Trust for Public Land, Ducks Unlimited, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and a handful of our larger regional land trusts.  They all agreed on the seriousness of this issue.  The top policy people from those organizations met here at LTA on Tuesday and agreed on first steps for work here in DC over the next month, including coordinated visits to key Congressional leaders.  We held two (2) conference calls in the last week with the leaders of 33 state land trust service centers to begin the outreach effort to all land trusts.  In states where there is no State Service Center, LTA will ask at least one Executive Director of a larger land trust to volunteer to be a state coordinator of all land trusts response to congress from that state.
2. Staffing
We have a team of experienced tax lobbyists already in place, and they are already touching base with the House and Senate leadership to assess where we are, and who will be willing to help us.  We need to raise the funds to hire additional lobbyist who have access to Congressional leaders.  LTA has shifted its staff to work on this, and virtually every LTA staff person will have a role in this effort.
3. Fundraising
This crisis is going to require us to raise significant levels of new funding.  We hope that all land trusts and board members to consider a gift to LTA's "Conservation Defense Fund" for this effort.  Forward all funds to Land Trust Alliance 1331 H Street NW, Ste 400, Washington, DC 20005.  We are also reaching out to foundations and donors who can help as it is evident that this will be a very expensive year in regards to our policy work.  If you have donors whom you believe will want to help fund this work, please email me at:  
We must all stay focused on immediate steps over the next few weeks.  But success will also require that we continue to work through this year, and over the next several years.  We now face a great likelihood that Congress, even if they reject the Joint Committee's approach, will propose other ways to prevent abuses of deductions for conservation donations.  That means we will be working closely with the Congress over the next year on the issue of what they should  do.  
It also means changing our work and your work to ensure that the public -- and their elected Representatives -- understand the importance of the conservation work you are doing.  If we don't, the problems we face now could come back at any time in the future.
We continue to try to increase communication and coordination with you  and all of our partners on this issue.  This is important now -- and will be even more important in the future, as Congress begins to discuss other alternatives to the current rules about conservation donations.  We pledge to listen carefully to you, and to safeguard the interests of all  legitimate land trusts.  If you have comments, ideas or questions, send them to
I can't talk to each one of you about this issue, but I do want to hear from you.   If you have ideas or resources you could bring to bear on this problem, please let us know.  If you think we are headed in the wrong direction, let us know.  It has never been more important.  We can work with you to put these ideas and information to work -- but only if you tell us about them.

Thank you for working together to ensure private land conservation is viable and thriving in the future.
Rand Wentworth
Land Trust Alliance"

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Battle Stations

I have been hearing unconfirmed rumblings about the strategy by land trusts to fight the plan to cut the conservation easement deductions. Now it's all confirmed. The LTA has posted the conference call from last week. It's a 45 minute call with president Rand Wentworth, in which he asks the trusts for help, and lays out the strategy. Here's a synopsis.
First, Wentworth is convinced the Joint Committee proposal is bad news for land trusts. He says senior staffers on the committee have assured him that nothing is in stone yet, but that there is a lot of interest in the proposal to cut the deduction. Essentially, he says the deduction is in play, and in the current climate of finding money wherever Congress can, that's not good.
He says all of the big trust groups (LTA, The Nature Conservancy, Farmland Trust, Ducks Unlimited etc.) have agreed on a need for a concentrated strategy.
In addition for calling for building a grassroots campaign, the strategy has three major components.
1: Hire lobbyists with Republican connections. The three lobbyists on board are Jim Range of Baker, Donelson , Rod DeArment with Covington & Burling and Mike Henry of the Alpine Group . All are former congressional staffers turned lobbyists with strong ties to the Republican leadership.
2: Find personal connections to Congressional leaders. If you know a top dog in Congress, particularly if you are a childhood friend, you should sign up to help now.
3: Start a warchest. A fund is being set up to pay the lobbyists and to provide educational funding.

A special email address has been set up as a centralized point to send information and to sign up for action alerts. The address is

Wentworth also said land trusts should realize that they probably will have to accept some regulatory action, including tougher standards for easement appraisal and strong monetary penalties for appraisal abuse. He also says LTA is working with the Appraisal community to toughen standards. He says 90% of the Congressional concerns are over inflated appraisals of land prices.

There's much more, and I would urge anyone interested to listen to the call.
To summarize, (and to paraphrase Zevon) the strategy calls for Lobbyists, Friends and Money.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Goodbye Young's Farm

Sad story out of the Arizona Republic (fairly painless registration required) about a fumbled chance to save what is described as a beloved landmark in a booming suburban area of Phoenix. It's really more about saving open spaces than a threatened ecosystem. It's about market forces, and nostalgia, and banking on one small piece of land to stay the same forever. Sometimes you really can't stop progress. Such as it is.
Here's an interesting take on the Bush budget plan. It's a press release from the organization REP America which describes itself as a grassroots coalition of Republicans for environmental protection (not to be a wiseguy, but who knew? Republicans for environmental protection?). The group describes the budget plan as a mixed bag, with a thumbs up for reducing agriculture subsidies and boosting Everglades and Coastal Wetlands funds, but thumbs down for cutting the Land and Water Conservation fund. The group says it was formed in the Republican environmental spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, and is based in Albuquerque. See what you can learn by reading this blog?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

An Alternative Plan

Thanks to a sharp eyed tax attorney, a proposal that could give land trusts a new conservation tool has been spotted in the President's Budget Proposal. It's in the Treasury Department's explanation of the revenue proposal. From January 1, 2006 to January 1, 2009, 50% of the capital gains from the sale of property to a qualified charitable organization for conservation purposes can be deducted. Why? Here's the reasoning from page 60 on the PDF.
"This proposal would encourage the sale of appreciated, environmentally sensitive land and land rights to qualified conservation groups, thus achieving conservation goals through voluntary sales of property, rather than imposing government regulation on land use. The proposal would achieve this goal by strengthening the ability of conservation groups to compete with other potential buyers of appreciated, environmentally sensitive land."
Interesting, no?
I wish I could give you more details on the "penalty" proposal on charities that fail to enforce conservation easements, but it seems pretty vague to me. (PDF page 113)
The proposal talks about the need to penalize those charities that fail to monitor and enforce conservation restrictions. It doesn't seem to penalize charities that help someone inflate the value of a donation, just those who don't monitor and enforce the easements. It does allow some discretion on the part of the Treasury Secretary in case circumstances change to make the intention to hold a property in perpetuity moot. The proposal calls for significant penalties based on the value of the deduction claimed, but doesn't specify those penalties.
My layman's read on this one is that it's to force trusts to take their stewardship seriously, but does little to crack down on inflated donations. Curious.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Splendor of the Grass

An article in the Kansas City Star about a couple's multi-million dollar gift to revitalize the Tallgrass Preserve in Kansas brought back some nice memories for me. I grew up in the northern fringes of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We actually lived in Osage County, which was also the Osage Indian Reservation. The Osage Hills began there, and as a Boy Scout we camped in what would soon be a housing development. But then it was the start of grass country. We had oil wells pumping nearby, and a few cattle checking us out, and bobwhites taunting us from the brush. I loved the early mornings and late afternoons when the sun would make the hills seem like rustling gold. It's the type of country that people don't ordinarily think of as scenic... until they spend some time there. Then it will stay in your soul forever. When I was a baby TV producer in Tulsa, I got to take a ride in the station helicopter to get video of what had just become the Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Preserve in Osage County. It was late afternoon, the sun lit the grass, and I was taking my first ride in a helicopter flying over an ocean of rolling grass hills. It was perfect.

Budget Reading at Lunch

I tried to plow my way through the President's Budget proposal at lunch today (So you'll know my research isn't exactly comprehensive) to figure out what the tea leaves indicate for line items of land trust interest. I found a couple of things, but here's the clearest hint on the administration's take on the conservation easement battle, and it comes from the Chronicle of Philantrophy which found the following nugget on proposals affecting charities.
"Another proposal would impose penalties on charities that fail to enforce conservation easements. Treasury officials said they are concerned that that some charities fail to monitor and enforce the conservation restrictions for which donors claimed charitable deductions.
That could give trusts a good argument on the Hill, penalize the wrongdoers, don't penalize everyone.
I couldn't find that part of the budget. But I did find that the administration is calling for slightly increasing the amount allocated for tax deductions for historic facades, which close readers of this blog know has been tied to the conservation easement. I can't find the line for conservation easements, which probably means I'm looking in the wrong place.
Also of interest, funding for land acquisition through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through direct federal purchase would be increased slightly, but grants to states for the same purpose would be cut to nothing.
If others (and I know there are) are better at reading the budget and can update me on the easement provision, or other lines of interest here, please drop me a line.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Easing back into Easements

Back to blogging after a busy weekend here at Nature Noted world headquarters. We're going through that fine process called buying another house and putting ours up for sale, which for those of you who've been through it, know is a bit time consuming.
That said, back into the easement wars!
First, great catch by Jon at The Uneasy Chair for finding a series of papers on land trusts and easement use. The papers are at PERC.ORG which specializes in studying free market environmentalism. Senior fellow Dominic "Nick" Parker published this paper called "Maintaining Trust" that studied land trusts, particularly their funding mechanisms, such as conservation easements. Parker is cautionary on the use of tax deductions for easements. One interesting caveat he found was the IRS insistence on perpetual easements, and the loss of flexibility that causes the trust through time. If you haven't already, check out Parker's article and his more indepth paper on the same topic . I've e-mailed Mr. Parker to get his reaction to the deduction question, and will post any response.
Jon and Gary at Crumb Trail have been talking about alternative funding for trusts beyond tax deductions, such as those suggested in Mr. Parker's paper.
Legislators in South Dakota are working on a way to add flexibility to those easements. A proposal being considered now would allow buyers and sellers to set varying lengths of easements, short, medium or long term. That could be a solution.
Other articles of note....
The San Francisco Chronicle has a good primer on the use of easements in California.
But from New York State, a cautionary tale about dotting all the i's and crossing the t's. Seems when New York State bought the easements for public access to 4,500 acres of land in the Adirondacks, it didn't settle the question of who owns a 4/10ths of a mile section of road through a camp for the children of the rich and famous. Without the access, the state property is cut off.
Finally, I'm again hearing rumblings that a strategy has been settled upon to fight the deduction war, but until I get further confirmation, I'll just leave it at that tantalizing tidbit. (I'm starting to feel like "Page Six" here.)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

In Other News

One of the first rules of producing TV newscasts is to figure out your lead story, and the rest of the newscast will fall into place. On those days when you don't have a clear lead, you try to go with what is interesting. Some nights you just go with what you have. We call that leading with the "B" block. So in that vein,"Good Evening, Welcome to the B block."
Actually, there's plenty of stuff going on. I hear rumblings that land trust leaders have been on conference calls about the tax bill, but no details have been forthcoming. If anyone who knows anything wants to drop a line, I'm all ears. Also one of the landtrust listservs has been in a really good debate over the obligation to pay property taxes on conserved lands and the need for public access. But frankly, I'm not sure about the rules (if they exist) on reporting debates in listservs, so I think I'll just keep it general for a while.
As Jon at the The Uneasy Chair points out, easement deductions may have a shaky future, but the sale of easements won't go away. A good example is the negotiation going on right now between two trusts,the Vermont Land Trust and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, with Southern Vermont College. The $175,000 deal would buy the conservation rights to 220 acres of forest land owned by the college on the side of Mt. Anthony. The college gets cash, and the public gets access to the mountain. It all hinges on the trusts securing financing.
And under comings and goings, Michael A. Fuhr has been named state director of the Oklahoma chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Being an native Okie, I'm always happy to hear of news coming from the Motherland. Go Pokes.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Gazing into the Future

On a night the President is laying out his plans for the country, it seems as good a time as any to look at what staffers and supporters of trusts see happening in the future. It's a little depressing. The results come from the December 2004 Survey of Land Trusts on the LTA website. The first question is, how likely is it that ALL of the land your organization protects may not continue to be conserved 100 years from now? 83% say it's highly likely or likely that they won't be able to conserve all the land. This on land that is supposed to be held in perpetuity. And the survey was taken before the Joint Committee report recommendations to chop easement deductions was released. Tax policy was mentioned as one impediment, as was pressure from land surrounding the easements being developed. The top overall threat listed to long-term protection was that trusts wouldn't be able to defend conservation easements.
This is probably one of those turning points that happens to every movement. Either conservation easements deductions have to be recognized as important and institutionalized or they will disapppear and trusts will have to learn to deal with a new reality. Check out the rest of the survey, it gives you a good sense of the challenges ahead.
Big thanks to Dave and the rest of the millers at Gristmill for the nice write-up on the easement fight. It's good to see others spreading the word. Outside of a single article in the Washington Post, the web pages of the LTA, a couple of listservs and a few humble bloggers, the silence has been deafening.
UPDATE: A few weeks ago, I pointed out the job opening for the Nevada State Director of the Nature Conservancy, and said there was no word on where current director Ame Hellman was going. Here's the word.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Is it too late?

The Land Trust Alliance has posted its statement on the Joint Committee recommendations. It's a good statement on why the easement deduction should be retained, while acknowledging the need for reform.
Still no public statements from The Nature Conservancy or Trust for Public Land. The TPL website does have a nice feature on connecting cities along the Mississippi to the river. Memphis could use more help on that.
Jon at The Uneasy Chair links to coverage of the Joint Committee report by Charity Governance. It has point by point analysis of the committee report. Here's the analysis on the facade and conservation easement section.
"ANALYSIS: This proposal should come as no surprise to anyone. There have been widely-reported abuses of the Section 170 façade and conservation easement provisions. With the Federal deficit at the level that it is, the charitable deduction for contribution for these property interests is an easy target. There is a price to be paid by tax advisors and tax-favored groups that are willing to sink to the lowest common denominator because “everybody else is doing it.” In the long run, there is not safety in numbers. Instead, Congress takes away the candy from pigs who have grown too obese. Ouch, Ouch, Ouch. If there's agreement to this analysis throughout Capitol Hill, the easement deduction may be too far gone to save.

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