Monday, December 9, 2013

Golf Courses and Conservation Easements

Over the weekend the listserves for land trusts were abuzz with the validity of conservation easements on golf courses due to a New York Times Op-Ed piece.  Apparently the NYT thinks that conservation easements on golf courses should not be eligible for the conservation easement deduction.  Seems like class warfare extends even to the out-of-doors.  For some reason they believe golf courses are the domain of the privileged, the affluent, and those evil with such wealth shouldn't be given a "tax-break".  I beg to differ.  The grand standing on important issues like the environment needs to stop.

We must all recognize that easements are a voluntary action for which the ONLY incentive is the income tax deduction.  I cannot accommodate the notion that conservation easements are a "cost" to the government or tax payers - if we want to argue about costs, benefits, value to the tax payers there are much much bigger issues to address than conservation.  the CE  choice made by the benefitting taxpayer costs them far more than the value of the incentive - it is forever - the value of the highest and best use has nothing to do with the centuries of benefit in the future.  central park is a great example of the long term benefit of greenspace.  We need to band together and demand more incentives, not gripe about who gets them.  It took Rockefeller thirty years and the threat of development to convince government of the value of jackson hole.  Seems like we ought to be beyond this by now - conservation easement incentives approximate less than a thousandth of a percent of the federal budget - less than 2 hours a year of government spending if you must view them as an "expenditure", which they are not.  We don't work for the government, what we pay them is an informed consent and by common agreement.  We all agreed over 40 years ago we could choose to give away our stuff and deduct it from our income.  If someone chooses to give away their building rights on a golf course that is their right - and the cockaded woodpeckers who particularly enjoy the open habitat next to their homes are grateful I'm sure.