The Senate Finance Committee recently approved by a voice vote the “Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007” (S. 700). The legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code to establish tax credits for landowners who voluntarily put easements on their property, and create tax incentives to landowners who aid in the recovery of species classified as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The measure reported from the Senate Finance Committee is part of a larger package of conservation measures, “Habitat and Land Conservation Act of 2007,” being considered by Congress. S. 700, initially introduced in February 2007 by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), has received strong bipartisan support.

The legislation would:

-Permanently extend tax incentives for farmers, ranchers, and other eligible taxpayers who establish conservation easements,

-Establish credits for taxpayers who take voluntary measures to help protect and restore the habitats of threatened or endangered species,

-Establish a tax deduction for the cost of specific actions recommended in habitat recovery plans approved under the Endangered Species Act taken by taxpayers,

-Allow taxpayers to exclude from taxable income any payments received from the federal government under certain cost-sharing conservation programs,

-Extend a provision to allow taxpayers to fully deduct the costs of environmental cleanups in the year the costs are incurred.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Max Baucus (D-MT) praised the bill stating, “America’s farmers, ranchers, and landowners have a big role to play in the preservation of America’s diverse wildlife and of crucial hunting and fishing lands. This legislation rewards their conservation activities, and guarantees that future generations will enjoy America’s great natural bounty just as much as we do today.”

The legislation has also been favorably received by non-governmental organizations ranging from environmental organizations to farm groups. “We applaud Senator Crapo and the bill’s cosponsors for supporting a solution that is a win-win for wildlife and landowners,” said John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation. American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) president Bob Stallman echoed a similar sentiment, “Encouraging landowners to proactively improve habitat because they want to, instead of passively acknowledging habitat through land use restrictions, will greatly enhance the recovery of listed species.”

The ESA has been awaiting reauthorization since 1992, however, efforts often stalled on touchy subjects such as the definition of “species recovery” and the law’s regulatory requirements. Previous attempts to overhaul the ESA have focused on eliminating “critical habitat” and requiring field-tested, peer-reviewed, and published information to list species.

In 2006, the nonprofit Keystone Center convened a working group to discuss revamping the ESA at the request of six U.S. senators. The group included environmentalists, landowners, academics, attorneys, timber companies and homebuilders. The panel wrote that “in short order” the act could do a better job of protecting wildlife habitat. The question of “how that ought to be accomplished,” the letter continued, is a much stickier subject. The panelists agreed on the government’s need to create more incentives for landowners and industry to preserve habitat.

With private lands housing 80 percent of listed species, Stallman said AFBF is absolutely convinced that cooperation with private landowners is essential if the ESA is to achieve its goal of recovering species; “the tax credits and deductions provided in the bill offer that encouragement.”

A similar bill (H.R. 1422), sponsored by Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), is currently under consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee.

 


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