Federal policies and agencies play a key role in land conservation.
Federal funding and tax policies are essential to land trusts’ success. From direct funding for land and easement acquisitions to tax incentives for conservation easements, the federal government is an important partner to help land trusts conserve more land.
North Carolina land trusts primarily benefit from four federal programs:
- Enhanced federal income tax deductions benefit landowners who donate conservation easements on farmland, streams and watersheds, natural areas, and trails.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) dollars protect land along the Blue Ridge Parkway and acquire land for local and state parks.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Bill conservation programs fund agricultural and working forest easements.
- AmeriCorps National Service funding supports CTNC’s Emerging Leaders Program initiatives seeking to connect young people to careers in conservation.
Enhanced Federal Tax Incentives
Historically, enhanced tax incentives have been responsible for a 33 percent increase in the amount of acres protected through easements nationwide. Congress made the expanded tax incentives for landowners who donate conservation easements permanent in 2015, but as tax reform is debated in Congress, land trusts must remain vigilant in their support for the expanded incentive and encourage Congress to support efforts to curb abuse of the tax incentive. Read more on federal tax deductions for donations of conservation easements.
Landowners interested in learning more about the enhanced incentive for donations of conservation easements should contact CTNC or their local land trust for more information.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) more than 50 years ago to use a small portion of proceeds from oil and gas extraction in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to invest in conservation and outdoor recreation. A successful, bipartisan program, LWCF has impacted all fifty states and nearly every county in America.
The LWCF has provided more than 40,000 grants for state and local projects nationwide and funding for federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and US Forest Service, to acquire important conservation lands. In North Carolina, the LWCF provided nearly $170 million in funding for land conservation projects along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Uwharrie National Forest, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, among others. LWCF invested $80 million for state and local park projects, many involving land trusts. Read more on LWCF’s impacts in our state.
Funding for LWCF is not adequate to meet a growing need for conservation priorities.
Only a percentage of authorized funding ($900 million per year) has actually been directed to its intended conservation purpose. Every year, $900 million is deposited into LWCF from the many billions of dollars the Treasury collects from offshore oil drilling, but generally less than half is appropriated for conservation projects.
In addition to the annual appropriation, Congress included legislation in the final 2016 budget bill to reauthorize the LWCF for three years, through September 30, 2018, with an annual appropriation of $450 million, which was about $100 million more than the previous year. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has proposed to cut the LWCF by more than 80 percent, to less than $65 million. The current Congressional budget proposal puts the LWCF at $275 – a far cry from the full $900 million accrued annually.
US Senator Richard Burr is a Congressional champion for LWCF introducing S.569 to permanently authorize and fully fund the LWCF. We applaud Senator Burr for his ongoing support of conservation issues and priorities at the state and federal level.
Farm Bill Conservation Programs
North Carolina land trusts have used the federal Farm Bill’s conservation programs primarily to fund agricultural easements on working family farms. Funding assists beginning farmers gain access to farmland, supports regional conservation plans, and develops local food system projects.
In 2014, the US Congress reauthorized the Farm Bill and established the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program to provide funding to purchase conservation easements. The ALE program will provide $750 million to purchase easements on working lands over the next few years. Blue Ridge Forever, a coalition of western NC land trusts, including CTNC, recently received an $8 million USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant to protect farms and water quality in the western part of the state. Read more on the RCPP.
Reauthorization of the current Farm Bill is critical to land trusts’ work.
The current Farm Bill expires in September 2018 and must be reauthorized for critical farmland preservation programs to continue. As land trusts increase the role in assisting new farmers’ access to affordable agricultural land, funding for the Farm Bill easement and beginning farmer programs will be more important than ever.
AmeriCorps and National Service Funding
Partnerships with the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and AmeriCorps provide financial support to CTNC’s Emerging Leaders Program that seeks to connect young people to the outdoors where they can establish a lifelong appreciation for the natural world and creates pathways for young people to find careers in conservation.
CTNC leverages federal dollars to organize and lead the NC Youth Conservation Corps, Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, and CTNC AmeriCorps deploying hundreds of members to land trusts, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and university partners in North Carolina and our nation’s capital.
Eliminating AmeriCorps funding would be detrimental to fostering conservation leaders.
The White House’s FY18 budget proposal called for a full elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and AmeriCorps. CNCS mobilizes tens of thousands of people annually who are working together to provide cost-effective critical services to communities in need across the country including hundreds in North Carolina. AmeriCorps members work in their communities to recruit and provide thousands of volunteer service hours to land trusts and nonprofit organizations that leverage federal dollars to increase their ability to connect more citizens to environmental education and the importance of land and water conservation.
Programs like AmeriCorps have been successful in cultivating the next generation of conservation leaders and it’s important to see that work continue. Drastic cuts to funding levels would be devastating to AmeriCorps service members, to the citizens engaged through conservation and education outreach, and to families who enjoy access to our state’s parks and natural areas maintained by corps members.
To ensure federal programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Farm Bill, and enhanced federal tax incentives continue, Members of Congress need to hear from you. Please join CTNC’s action alert network to show your support of important federal programs that impact conservation in North Carolina.