Reinstate the Conservation Tax Credit and dedicated conservation funding.
Land conservation provides numerous public benefits: clean air, safe drinking water, local foods, places for healthy recreation, open spaces that are critical for military training, and habitat for wildlife. Protected natural lands provide the foundation for our state’s three largest industries -- agriculture, tourism, and the military.
In 1983 North Carolina established the Conservation Tax Credit and became the first state in the nation to establish an income tax credit for the donation of conservation lands. Over the next 30 years, this incentive would help protect 262,000 acres, valued at $1.5 billion.1
In addition, the General Assembly established a dedicated revenue source,2 a small portion of the deed stamp tax split between the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, enabling both to fund hundreds of conservation projects protecting thousands of acres and worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
As a direct result of these programs, North Carolina was a leader in conserving natural lands for three decades. Our state had cleaner air, safer drinking water, and invested in parks and trails for families to enjoy. We were able to preserve family farms and produce fresh local foods. The boon to the state’s economy was huge.
Nevertheless, after thirty years of progress, in 2013 the General Assembly repealed the tax credit and eliminated dedicated funding for conservation.
Our state’s experience has demonstrated that we do not have to choose between a strong economy and the natural spaces that underpin our high quality of life. We can have both, but not without an intentional, well-resourced strategy to preserve the land and waters of our state. As a first step toward ensuring that our environment will be safe and healthy by 2025, we should reinstate the conservation tax credit and dedicated conservation funding3 for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
1 The tax credit reduced revenue to the state an average of $17.5 million per year, but leveraged roughly $114 million per year in land donations. The tax credit was equal to 25 percent of the fair market value of the interest in real property donated for conservation purposes, with a cap of $250,000.
2 1% of the deed stamp tax.
3 Sources: Analysis of conservation funding by The Nature Conservancy NC Chapter. (2015).
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (November 2014). Conservation Easement Program Annual Report to the Environment Review Commission.