2014 Policy Platform
ICOLT’s policy on advocacy provides that we may adopt a legislative platform that authorizes the executive director or executive committee to state certain pre-approved positions on pending legislation without seeking the approval of the membership for each statement. This memorandum summarizes proposed positions on four specific congressional issues and is intended to guide ICOLT’s advocacy work through the 2015 annual meeting. ICOLT may seek board review and approval for positions on additional issues as they arise at the local, state, or federal level.
Full Funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The Land and Water Conservation Fund is scheduled to expire September 30, 2015, and coming budget targets and deadlines will put increasing pressure on LWCF. Senate Bill 338 would reauthorize and fully dedicate funding for LWCF.
In recent years, LWCF has also funded two other crucial conservation programs: the Forest Legacy Program and Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (which provides voluntary financial incentives to protect habitat for listed species).
LWCF advocates are exploring options to form a coalition that would support both LWCF and payments to counties with a high percentage of public lands through the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) and Payment-in-Lieu-of-Tax (PILT) program. For more information: http://www.lwcfcoalition.org/about-lwcf.html.
Recommendation: Renew ICOLT’s existing support for LWCF and endorse S. 338, which would provide full and dedicated funding for LWCF at the level authorized by the LWCF Act of 1965 ($900 million). Support annual appropriations that do not disproportionately cut LWCF and seek stable funding levels at roughly $300 million. Support forming a coalition that would link LWCF and SRS/PILT if the result is positive for LWCF.
Fiscal Year 2015 Federal Appropriations for Core Conservation Programs: In recent years, the House of Representatives has proposed severe cuts in some of the key wildlife and land conservation programs funded through the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (Interior Bill). These programs include the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, State Wildlife Grants, Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, Land and Water Conservation Fund, and Forest Legacy Program. All of these programs focus on providing voluntary incentives to landowners for stewardship and land protection and funding to state wildlife agencies for wildlife research and conservation. Given the nation’s fiscal challenges, budget cuts in most conservation programs are virtually certain. However, ICOLT can work to prevent severe cuts that threaten the viability of these key programs.
Recommendation: Request that Idaho’s congressional delegation avoid any disproportionate cuts to the following programs:
- Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund
- North American Wetlands Conservation Act
- State Wildlife Grants
- Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund Land and Water Conservation Fund
- Forest Legacy Program
This means that any cuts to these core conservation programs should not exceed the percentage by which all of the agencies and programs included in the Interior Bill will be reduced. This position would apply only to the FY 2015 budget process. As noted above, we recommend that ICOLT seek legislation to provide long-term full and dedicated funding for LWCF from Outer Continental Shelf revenue.
Federal Land Transfer Facilitation Act (FLTFA): The now-expired FLTFA authorized the Bureau of Land Management to direct the proceeds from the sale of BLM lands identified for disposal in the twelve western states (including Idaho) to an account that BLM, USFS, NPS and FWS can use to fund conservation acquisitions. Approximately 80 percent of the conservation dollars return to the same state where BLM sold the land. FLTFA has helped protect projects at City of Rocks National Reserve, Upper Snake South Fork ACEC and the Nez Perce National Historic Park in Idaho and is poised to generate more conservation dollars if reauthorized. FLTFA’s land-for-land approach to conservation provides a flexible and useful tool for conservation that is not dependent on annual appropriations and often complements LWCF. Idaho’s Senators and Congressmen have been supportive of re-authorizing FLTFA but the legislation has not cleared Congress. For more information: www.fltfa.org
Recommendation: Support FLTFA re-authorization as currently proposed in S. 368 (Heinrich-Heller) and H.R. 2068 (Lummis-DeFazio).
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA): The North American Wetlands Conservation Act or NAWCA provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife. The North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2013 would extend the now-expired NAWCA program authorizing the US Fish & Wildlife Service to direct the proceeds of appropriations for allocations to carry out approved wetlands conservation projects through FY2017.
Recommendation: Support NAWCA re-authorization as currently proposed in S. 741 (Boxer-Vitter) and H.R. 2208 (Wittman).
Enhanced Tax Deduction for Conservation Easement Donations: From 2006 to 2013, Congress put into place a set of tax incentives that enabled family farmers, ranchers and other moderate income landowners to get a meaningful tax benefit for donating a conservation easement on their land. These incentives included:
- Raises the maximum deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement from 30% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in any year to 50%;
- Allows qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100% of their AGI; and
- Increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 years to 16 years
The enhanced easement incentive expired on December 31, 2013, after contributing to a dramatic increase in the pace of land conservation nationwide. Bipartisan legislation is pending in both chambers to renew the incentive. H.R. 2807 has 212 co-sponsors in the House and, as of late May, had passed both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. But, the bill still faces a floor vote in both chambers. For more information: http://www.landtrustalliance.org/policy/tax-matters/campaigns/the-enhanced-easement-incentive
Recommendation: Extend or make permanent the enhanced tax deduction for donations of conservation easements first enacted in 2006.
ICOLT has a general interest in the following general policies and will act quickly in responding to proposed legislation affecting them:
State Conservation Easement Law: Existing Idaho law governs the creation and protection of conservation easements in Idaho. ICOLT has an interest in the stability of this body of law and would oppose new restrictions on a landowner’s rights to enter into voluntary conservation easements.
Idaho Property Tax Policies Favoring Agricultural, Forest, and Wildlife Habitat Uses: Current laws governing property taxes on agricultural and forest lands favor these land use by taxing them based on their existing uses rather than their “highest and best use” (development) value. Existing law also allows land held for wildlife habitat purposes – subject to certain restrictions and procedures – to be taxed at its agricultural value. ICOLT would oppose legislation weakening these policies.