© Kimberly Vardeman

Congress must pass the Bipartisan Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act

As Executive Director/CEO of ESLT, I am concerned about the recent New York Times coverage of President Trump’s tax returns. The New York Times criticizes deductions for donations of conservation easements, characterizing conservation easements as “a maneuver, popular among wealthy Americans, that typically allows a landowner to keep a property’s title and receive a tax deduction equal to its appraised value.”

The permanent conservation easement tax incentive is a powerful tool that has helped tens of thousands of Americans with truly charitable intent conserve their land voluntarily. It allows landowners to take a charitable deduction based on the fair market value of a donated easement, based on an appraisal done by a qualified appraiser.

While some conservation easements are purchased and others are donated, not all donations of conservation easements are created equal. The vast majority of donated conservation easements are truly charitable endeavors. Unfortunately, a few bad actors are promoting conservation easement donations as a way for investors to make a fast — and often large — profit by gaining access to large federal tax deductions.

ESLT welcomes the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s thorough and revealing report that was released on August 25, 2020, on the abuse of the federal conservation tax incentive. The bipartisan investigation that yielded the report, led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), concluded that the ongoing abuse is egregious and must end. The report also makes clear why Congress must take action now.

A solution is ready for Congress to pass. The bipartisan Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act (S. 170 / H.R. 1992) will safeguard taxpayers by stopping bad actors from profiteering, all while allowing conservation donations motivated by charity to continue unimpeded. This legislation is concise, sensible, and ready for passage in the House and Senate. Enacting the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act is the fastest and most efficient way to stop this abuse.

Recently-completed ESLT conservation easements are not involved in this issue as they were purchased, not donated. If you would like to contact your elected representatives and support the passing of the bipartisan Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, click here and enter your ZIP code in the Find Your Representative tool.

As an accredited land trust, Eastern Sierra Land Trust is a strong proponent of the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act. Land trust accreditation is a mark of distinction, showing that a land trust meets high standards for conservation. Accreditation demonstrates that a land trust has successfully implemented Land Trust Standards and Practices, which describe how to operate a land trust legally, ethically, and in the public interest, with a sound program of land transactions and land stewardship.


Author Kay Ogden is ESLT’s Executive Director/CEO. You may get in touch with her at .