Conservation easements are a valuable tool for protecting open lands such as farms and ranches, wildlife habitats, historic and cultural sites, scenic open space and recreational lands from development while keeping them in private ownership. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a private landowner and a qualified conservation organization – such as the New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) – to limit subdivision, development and specific uses on the subject property for the purpose of conserving certain conservation values or providing some kind of public benefit. Each conservation easement is tailored to the subject property and the conservation goals of the landowner.
In New Mexico, landowners who donate conservation easements can be eligible for federal income tax deductions as well as a transferable state tax credit. New Mexico is one of only a handful of states across the nation that has such a transferable state tax credit for landowners who donate conservation easements or land for conservation purposes. This state tax credit was enacted in 2004, and then expanded and made transferable in 2008. Landowners who receive the state tax credit have 20 years within which they can use the credits to offset their state tax credit liability or to sell them at a discounted rate on the open market and convert them to cash. This incentive, combined with the federal tax deduction, can make all the difference for a landowner considering a conservation easement.
For example, the Shortes family in Catron County has worked with NMLC to conserve over 4,800 acres of land along the eastern flanks of Alegres Mountain. The family’s conservation goals were achieved through a partnership between NMLC, the NM State Forestry Division, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, with partial funding through the NM Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the USDA’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. Through two conservation easements, the family was able to keep their ranch in the family and in agricultural production but also benefit from a combination of partial payments and tax credits in exchange for the development rights they permanently gave up.
Zeke Shortes explained that the family made their decision to respect the wishes of his grandfather. “He founded the Pie Town ranch in 1971, and loved the history, the rugged beauty, the pristine nature of the place. The area has suffered from the influx of subdivisions, and has threatened the sacredness that first entranced my grandfather. A conservation easement will forever preserve his legacy and respect my grandfather’s wishes while allowing us to provide an unspoiled landscape for my family to enjoy for generations to come.”
Although conservation easements permanently restrict development, private landowners can continue to farm, ranch and engage in other compatible land use practices, while realizing tax and/or financial benefits for the development rights they are foregoing through the granting of the easements. And New Mexicans and the public at large benefits from the beautiful landscapes, wildlife habitat and other resources that the conservation easements will forever protect.
image courtesy of Ducks