New Conservation Easement Act Aims to Save Lands from Development

For outdoorsmen, the term “private lands” typically means acres of fish and wildlife habitat, and trails closed to public use. That term has taken on new meaning in recent months as members of Congress have signed on to support the call by special interests to sell off public property to states and private industries.

But there is another story to private lands that benefits fish, wildlife, and outdoorsmen. And there is actually a bi-partisan initiative underway in Congress that will strengthen it.

This is the private land trust conservation movement – the act of private landowners placing permanent conservation easements on acres of their property. Rather than grow condos or row crops or hand these acres off to heirs, they are giving perpetual protection to forests, streams, meadows, and swamps that provide homes for fish and wildlife.

According to the Land Trust Alliance, which represents roughly 1200 of the estimated 1700 private land trusts, about 13 million acres of private lands have been preserved this way over the last 10 years – a pace that continues at about 1 million acres a year.

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act of 2015 (H.R. 641) would make tax incentives for land trusts permanent. It is contained in the larger America Gives More Act of 2015, which last week rolled through the House on a 279-137 vote. The odds look equally favorable in the Senate, but outdoorsmen shouldn’t take anything for granted.

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