Bush signs land protection bill sponsored by Northern California congressman

President Bush signed a measure into law that will aid in the protection of thousands of acres of the nation's shrinking agricultural lands.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, spearheaded efforts to create the new tax provision. It will increase deductions available to farmers, ranchers and other landowners who donate their property for conservation purposes. These land donations, called conservation easements, allow farmers and ranchers to continue using the land, while protecting the property from future development.

"This new law is a big win for farmers and our environment," said Thompson. "Agriculture is a core component of our economy and our American heritage, and we have lost thousands of acres of agricultural lands to urban sprawl over the past decade. It is imperative that we find new solutions for protecting these invaluable areas. Through this provision, we take an important step toward keeping urban development from destroying our farmlands and harming the environment."

When landowners donate their property as a conservation easement, whether through the government or a public land trust, they maintain ownership and management of the land, while forgoing their rights to develop the land in the future. Conservation easements have historically been an effective tool for protecting farmland, and Thompson anticipates this new law will enable more farmers to donate their land for conservation purposes.

Thompson worked with a grassroots coalition of farmers, conservationists and government officials to help secure this provision.

"This bill marks a brand new day for efforts to protect our nation's landscapes, natural resources and local economies," said Alan Front, Senior Vice President of the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. "With the inclusion of this landmark conservation provision in the pensions bill, Congressman Thompson and his colleagues have made it possible for more and more Americans to do the right thing with their properties; as a result, more farmers will stay on the land, more conservation gifts will be made for the benefit of the public and communities will retain more of their traditional land uses, character and economic cornerstones."

"This provision does more to preserve agricultural lands in the long term than any currently-available zoning laws can," said Andy Beckstoffer, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. "It truly allows us to be better stewards of the land, ensuring our country's farmland is available for future generations."

Thompson’s district covers all or part of Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa and Yolo counties.

The tax provision expands the current tax law in two ways: 1) It raises the cap for such deductions to 50 percent of donor income for all individuals except ranchers and farmers who are capped at 100 percent of donor income. The current cap is 30 percent for all landowners. 2) It extends the carry-forward period for conservation easement deductions to 15 years from the currently-allowable five years.

This provision was included in Section 1206 of the Pension Protection Act (H.R.4).

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