Ducks Unlimited, as its name suggests, is all about ducks and other waterfowl.
The national conservation organization also is an accredited land trust, one of more than 1,700 in the United States that manage private land donated for wildlife habitat, wetlands protection and outdoor recreation. Darin Blunck, conservation programs director for Ducks Unlimited, credits the now enhanced conservation easement deduction that expired at the end of 2013 with persuading rural land owners to give up development rights to some of their land.
Blunck does not know how many Ducks Unlimited land donors were swayed by the 100 percent deduction of adjusted gross income for farmers and ranchers. The organization’s trust portfolio includes 465 easements that cover 387,000 acres. Many of those acres are in Louisiana, eastern Arkansas and the low country of South Carolina, although the network of easements extends to California and the upper Great Plains.
But like other supporters of the deduction’s renewal, Blunck said the tax break made conservation a viable financial decision.
“The feedback that we have gotten from the farmers and ranchers we work with,” Blunck said, “is that the ability to deduct up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income is really important to make the numbers pencil out.”
When someone is considering donating land, Ducks Unlimited sends one of its biologists to assess the conservation potential and to discuss the owner’s plans for future use. Agricultural land can be kept in production as long as conservation practices are followed. Rice fields are particularly attractive to water fowl and provide a food source.
“Our aim is not to eliminate the economic viability of the land. We want to form a partnership with the land owner and protect the wetlands and habitat values while at the same time making sure that the land owner can make a living on the property,” Blunck said.
All of the easements are in rural areas but wetlands in some locations in South Carolina face encroachment from growing suburban and city areas, Blunck said.
Ducks Unlimited does not do the land appraisals used to determine the donation value. It monitors the easements with yearly inspections to make sure there’s been no development or other potential violations of the conservation terms. Finalizing an easement can take six months to two years, Blunck said.
It’s too early to tell how land donations might be affected because the higher tax deduction has expired. Blunck said that making it a permanent part of the tax code would remove uncertainty about the future.