No better time for land conservation

  • Saturday, March 17, 2007 8:00am
  • Opinion

The good folks at the Bainbridge Island Land Trust rang up the other day, asking how they could get their organization into the newspaper more often.

The first answer that came to mind was, “Do more,” so that’s what we said. And on cue, Executive Director Karen Molinari announced that her group was a gnat’s eyelash from completing purchase of the five-acre Olsen property off North Madison. Boosted by $125,000 in city open space dollars, the $375,000 deal will expand by 50 percent the Ted Olsen Nature Preserve, a quiet corner of forested bucolia at the north end.

Other than that, though, it has been a rather slow stretch for the BILT, the third arm of the city Open Space Commission/Park District troika that has successfully put corners of Bainbridge out of reach of the chain saw and grader. Karen admitted as much, noting that the trust went all of 2006 without completing a single conservation easement. A new easement on five acres off Toe Jam Hill this past January finally broke the drought.

Thing is, if you’re going to put your land under a voluntary conservation easement, this is exactly the time to do it. Last year, Congress opened a two-year window through which farmers, ranchers and other resource landowners could benefit from putting significant tracts under conservation agreements. Such easements – voluntary donations by private landowners – retire the development rights on a given parcel so as to protect wildlife, scenic and historic resources. The owner maintains title to the land, but agrees to restrict future uses and activities in perpetuity.

The 2006 law raised the tax deduction a landowner can claim for a conservation easement, from 30 percent of their annual adjusted gross income to 50 percent. Qualifying farmers (of which Bainbridge still has a few) and ranchers (not so many, unless goat pens count) can deduct up to 100 percent of their gross income. The carryover for such deductions was extended from five years to 15.

Unfortunately, for reasons that probably make sense only to those who understand the federal tax code – a wan minority, to be sure – the law expires after this year and has not been renewed. So if you’ve ever considered putting your own holdings under a conservation easement, there’s no better time. Karen Molinari (842-1216) knows all.

There has been recent talk of running another bond levy to fund the purchase of more Bainbridge open space, following the successful $8 million program. Conservation easements – 41 of which now protect more than 700 acres on Bainbridge Island – remind us that if you’ve got a farm, a forest or a field you don’t want, you needn’t wait for the city to come knocking. Absent direct public purchase, private pockets can still benefit from land conservation through good tax breaks.

All of which is a long way of saying that the Bainbridge Island Trust still wants more publicity, and that you can help.

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