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State Income Tax Credits for Conservation Easements

Do Additional Credits Create Additional Value?

Jeffrey O. Sundberg

September 2011, English

Conservation easements have become an extremely popular way to protect the conservation values of undeveloped land. Fifteen states have created income tax credits to encourage the creation and donation of conservation easements. This paper studies these credit programs to determine the extent to which states that are willing to subsidize easements more heavily might also be willing to take steps to reduce at least some of the frequently-discussed concerns about conservation easement policy. The paper finds that programs that offer the highest value of tax credits have all put one or more requirements into place that are likely to increase the conservation value of donated easements, including a more precise definition of the qualifying conservation values, the certification of the presence of such values on a parcel, and publicly-available data about the amount, type, and location of land under easement.