About the Conservancy

National Land Trust Census Shows Gains in Conservation in Ohio

On November 30, 2006, the Land Trust Alliance in Washington, D.C. issued an in-depth census of America's voluntary land conservation movement. The Census cites record numbers of acres preserved by private land trusts throughout the nation.

Land trusts in each state work to conserve important land in the communities they serve, including farms, waterways, wetlands, scenic vistas, forests, urban gardens and public recreational areas. Those protected lands safeguard water quality, protect natural areas and wildlife habitat, preserve working family farms and ranches, and create opportunities to enjoy open green spaces.

Private land conservation nearly doubled nationwide during 2000 to 2005, soaring to 11.9 million acres. Land trusts in Ohio protected 30,447 acres during the 2000-2005 period; this is a 150% increase over the number of acres conserved up until that time. Most of the increase nationwide and in Ohio occurred through private voluntary land conservation agreements, often called conservation easements.

During the 2000-2005 period, land trusts grew nationwide by 32% to a total of 1,667. Nearly 25,000 members and volunteers supported the 44 land trusts operating in Ohio in 2005. Two of these, the Owl Creek Conservancy with more than 225 members and the Philander Chase Corporation with 15 board members, are based in Knox County.

The National Land Trust Census also identified key trends in private voluntary land conservation. These include increased knowledge and use of conservation easements as a tool to conserve land; a new federal tax incentive for donations of conservation easements, enacted in August 2006 and providing special adjustments for farmers and ranchers; and the greater professionalism (staffing, funding and philanthropic support) of land trusts.

Land Trust Alliance President, Rand Wentworth said, "Private conservation works because it's locally driven, supported by sound tax policy, and people-oriented. This is what land conservation looks like in the 21st century. The success of land trusts and private conservation boils down to this: when people see the natural qualities of their environment where they live being destroyed, they are willing to stand up and take action. And they are increasingly winning."

Additional information about the National Land Trust Census, along with a state-by-state summary of acreage protected, is available on the Land Trust Alliance website, www.landtrustalliance.org.

This is the first in a three-part series on private land conservation in Knox County. Watch for part two, "Conservation Easements," and part three, "New Federal Tax Incentives for Donors of Conservation Easements," in this publication. For more information, visit www.owlcreekconservancy.org.

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Conservation Easements: An Option for Landowners

Ownership of land is a "bundle of rights." These include timber, mineral, hunting or fishing and water rights. An owner can separate and sell or give away each of the rights. Also, each of the rights can be separated and sold or given away as an easement. For example, a utility easement can be sold or given to a gas company for a gas line through a property. Such a utility easement would appear on the deed to the property and would remain with the property permanently even though the owner might subsequently sell the land.

A conservation easement, as the name implies, is a legal agreement used to extinguish development rights for the specific purpose of conserving and preserving land. Land might be conserved, for example, to assure continuation of agricultural activities, wildlife habitat or private open space. Typically, easements are written to reflect the current owner's personal wishes for his or her property.

Each conservation easement is recorded in the permanent public record just as deeds of ownership or utility easements are recorded. The conservation easement simply sets limitations on future uses of the property in exchange for financial compensation and/or tax benefits. A conservation easement would not convert the land to public use or permit public access; the land would remain entirely private. The land can be sold, leased and willed subsequently and can be used as defined in the easement.

The Ohio Revised Code recognizes conservation easements, allows conservation groups to hold them and specifies how they are to be handled. To qualify for a federal tax deduction, a conservation easement must be given in perpetuity to a recognized conservation organization. A qualified appraiser can evaluate a conservation easement just as an appraiser could determine the market value of land for sale as real estate. Values of conservation easements vary, but 30-40% of the fair market value of the property is a general rule.

In Knox County, the Owl Creek Conservancy is a private, fully qualified 501 c (3) (IRS) non-profit land trust that can develop and hold conservation easements. Presently, the Conservancy holds seventeen conservation easements covering 1701 acres. The first two of the Conservancy's easements (totaling 33 acres) are along the Kokosing Gap Trail west of the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College. Fifteen of the completed easements, totaling 1480 acres and protecting both working farms and natural areas, are in Knox County. The two remaining easements include a 91-acre working forest (that can be timbered forever) in Monroe Township in Richland County and a 130-acre farm in Muskingum County that is being developed by the Muskingum Valley Park District and the Muskingum farming community as an agricultural educational facility. Four easements in Knox County were acquired through donations by the landowners and grants from the Ohio Public Works Commission and ODNR, Division of Wildlife or by funds donated to the Conservancy. The remaining easements were the generous donations of the property owners.

The Conservancy's seventeen completed easements attest to the scope of land-protecting agreements and to the magnitude of the Conservancy's holdings. The listing above, however, does not demonstrate the uniqueness of each land-protecting agreement and the Conservancy's ability to tailor an agreement for each property and landowner.

In addition to the Conservancy, a private land trust, the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Board of County Commissioners are governmental entities that are also qualified to hold conservation easements. For more information about land use options and conservation easements, please visit the Conservancy's web site at www.owlcreekconservancy.org or the web site of the national organization of land trusts, the Land Trust Alliance, at www.lta.org.


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New Federal Tax Incentives for Donors of Conservation Easements

The National Land Trust Census, issued on November 30, 2006 cited a 150% increase in land preserved in Ohio between 2000 and the end of 2005. Most of the increase occurred through private voluntary land-protecting agreements, often called conservation easements. Conservation easements are private voluntary agreements allowing continued traditional uses of land such as farming or forestry, while otherwise restricting future development.

The National Land Trust Census also identified new federal tax incentives for the donations of conservation easements as key to future private voluntary land conservation.

On August 17, 2006, the President signed Public Law 109-280, the Pension Protection Act. The Senate passed the Act 93 to 5 and the House of Representatives passed it 279 to 131. The new law included the first major new income tax incentives for land conservation in 26 years.

Numerous sportsmen's and conservation organizations supported the legislation. These included American Bird Conservancy, American Farmland Trust, Bowhunting Preservation Alliance, Civil War Preservation Trust, Ducks Unlimited, Land Trust Alliance, National Audubon Society, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the Trust for Public Land.

The new income tax incentives enhance benefits previously available for the donation of conservation easements. This is especially the case for individuals who qualify as farmers or ranchers for the year they donate a conservation easement to a qualified organization such as the two private land trusts based in Knox County, the Owl Creek Conservancy and the Philander Chase Corporation.

Under the new law, a donor may deduct the fair market value of a conservation easement up to 50% of adjusted gross income. The deduction for the conservation easement would be in addition to the amount of the donor's other charitable contributions. Any deduction exceeding 50% of the donor's adjusted gross income could be carried forward for up to 15 years.

When the donor of a conservation easement is a qualified farmer or rancher, additional tax incentives apply. A farmer or rancher is an individual or private corporation more than 50% of whose total gross income comes from farming/ranching the year a conservation easement is donated.

Under the new law, a qualified farmer or rancher may deduct 100% of the fair market value of a donated conservation easement from adjusted gross income. Any deduction exceeding 100% of the donor's adjusted gross income could be carried forward for up to 15 years. To qualify for the 100% deduction, the conservation easement must provide that the protected property will remain available for agricultural purposes permanently.

Individuals who might be able to access the new tax incentives should explore that possibility with an accountant or tax attorney. Importantly, the new tax incentives expire on December 31, 2007, unless they are re-authorized by the incoming Congress. Neither the Owl Creek Conservancy nor the Philander Chase Corporation provides advice on tax matters. Either organization can provide information and advice on conservation easements. Either organization can work with attorneys and accountants on tax matters.

This is the third in a three-part series on private land conservation in Knox County. All three articles may be viewed at www.owlcreekconservancy.org. The Conservancy or the Philander Chase Corporation may be contacted through 740-392-6952.

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