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A Letter to The Wall Street Journal, re: the article following the letter.

by Jim Beers 2/25/13 Here for Beers biography


The next time you publish an article about property rights in rural America, avoid progressive enclaves like Austin, Texas complete with pictures from the Grand Teton Regional Trust where most folks are millionaires. Your Wealth Management piece recommending that land owners “hurry” to take advantage of “tax breaks” for foregoing and selling perpetual use and development of the natural resources and other rights on private property to “a land trust near your property” is a purposely misleading piece of propaganda that should outrage not only rural residents and their local governments: all Americans concerned with the deterioration of rural America or with the erosion of Constitutional government and the growth of federal power should be outraged.

Ask North Dakota farmers about the millions of acres of perpetual easements in their state. Ask New Mexico ranchers about the “land trust” easements on and around their properties. Ask western Virginia residents about the “historic” easements and federal “Preservation” funding that impedes rural life and opportunities.

The federal government already owns over 40% of the nation: add in state landholdings and the % goes even higher. For decades the federal government/The Nature Conservancy cabal of land easement, land purchase, land resale for profit, etc. has extended the restrictions of the environmental believers to ever-growing areas of private property nationwide. Federal funding, federal purchases and easements, federal hidden cooperation with “trusts”, and tax breaks for TNC and their subsidiaries and copycats create a tsunami eroding rural American property rights and communities. What is the total acreage of such lands? Who would we ask?

Imagine a rural America with no sustainable timber management and use; no sustainable livestock use of renewable forage; no new roads; no community expansions such as sewage disposal; no hunting; no trapping; no local and sustainable water use or development on or near easements; no new home construction; no new industry or jobs; or no new anything. All of these things are the real targets of these “land trusts” and not the preservation of “scenic, environmentally sensitive or historical properties.” Describe the actual “restrictions” and don’t tolerate these inferences that there are an unlimited number of Grant Teton vistas and Mount Vernons about to disappear forever without federally subsidized takeover of all private property. Not only the rural communities suffer, the national economy suffers measurably both in the current economic malaise but even worse for our children and grandchildren AD INFINITUM.

Despite your urban location and urban priorities, I would hope the WSJ takes note and reports on this phenomenon more accurately in the future.


Jim Beers

25 February 2013



It can pay to preserve your land.

The new tax legislation signed at the beginning of the year renewed generous federal tax breaks for landowners who permanently preserve scenic, environmentally sensitive or historical properties.

The preservation technique, known as a conservation easement, is a binding agreement, typically made between a landowner and a nonprofit group called a land trust, that places development restrictions on the property.


Teton Regional Land Trust

Preserved land in the Teton Valley of Idaho

Under the provisions in the new tax law, landowners generally can deduct the value of a donation up to 50% of their adjusted gross income per year. If your income is too low to deduct the full amount of your gift in one year, you can deduct the remaining amount over as much as the next 15 years.

Professional farmers and ranchers or those with forestry operations who earn at least half their income from their land can claim deductions up to 100% of their income.

Time Is Short

The value of the donation for income-tax purposes is the difference between the land's unrestricted value and its new value with limited development or usage rights.


Teton Regional Land Trust

For interested landowners, there is some urgency. The tax breaks will expire at the end of this year unless Congress votes to extend them. (If Congress fails to act, landowners who can't deduct the full amount of donations made this year will still be able to claim deductions for those donations in subsequent years.)

The new law also extends the tax breaks back for 2012, when they had expired for a year. That means anyone who did a conservation easement last year should be in touch with their tax lawyers, says Russ Shay, director of public policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance, a coalition of hundreds of land trusts across the country.

Be Sure

To set up a conservation easement, contact a land trust near your property. (The website of the Land Trust Alliance, www.landtrustalliance.org, lists local land trusts.)


The land has to be appraised and may need to be surveyed, which together can cost a few thousand dollars. There are also legal fees to draw up the easement. Landowners often make cash donations—which are also deductible—to the land trust to help fund the organization's monitoring of the easement over time, Mr. Shay says.

The biggest hurdle, though, may be emotional. Before committing to an easement in perpetuity, a family has to be sure it wants to permanently restrict development—and the riches that may come with selling development rights.

Property owners can sell their land, but buyers are obligated to honor the easement.

There are also tax breaks beyond federal deductions. At least 14 states and municipalities, including Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, offer a range of income-tax or property-tax breaks for land under easement.

But beware that the Internal Revenue Service has been increasing the number of conservation-easement tax returns it audits, concerned with abuses in which donors have taken inflated deductions or have placed restrictions on land with little conservation value.

Ms. Silverman is a Wall Street Journal staff reporter in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at: rachel.silverman@wsj.com.




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