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Aligning Horse Owners with Conservationists

America cannot afford to lose the horse industry; its economic alone impact is huge. According to the American Horse Council’s study, the horse industry directly produces goods and services of $25.3 billion and has a total impact of $112.1 billion on U.S. gross domestic product. This same study reveals that there are 7.1 million people involved in the horse industry, with 1.9 million of those actually owning horses.

All over the country, equestrians are faced with the impending loss of their open land. Leading horse organizations have identified loss of open land as the greatest threat to their future and the need to address this problem is urgent. According to David O’Connor, president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, “With the suburban sprawl that is going on around the country, people who ride horses are losing vital resources. Partnerships … are needed to guarantee the future of equestrian sports and all types of equestrian access.”

Equestrians share a special privilege: the permission to ride over magnificent open spaces on private land. They owe a debt of gratitude to the landowners who have conserved their land for future generations. The good news is that the rate of land has tripled in the last five years.

Private voluntary land conservation is an important American tradition. The future of America’s natural heritage and the horse industry may well depend on it.

It is time for members of the horse industry and land conservationists to align forces to protect the land that sustains the soul as well as the economy. Equestrians can generously contribute to land conservation organizations as members, donors and volunteers, and everyone can support policies that promote land conservation at the national and state level. In 2006, $6.7 billion in public funding was approved in 133 ballot initiatives across the country, including California, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas. This compares to $1.5 billion in new conservation ballot initiatives in 2005.

Horse farm owners, among other landowners, have the additional choice of placing a conservation easement on their land. The first step is to approach the experts at saving land in America: land trusts. A land trust is a private, nonprofit organization that protects land through acquisition of development rights or land fee simple. Land trusts work with willing landowners to complete voluntary transactions. 1,667 land trusts are operating at the local, regional, state, or national level in the United States. Together, these groups have protected more than 37 million acres.

Successful Partnerships:

The running of the Kentucky Derby each May is a reminder of the great interest Americans have in horses. For decades, champion horses like Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown winner in 1977, and Smarty Jones, the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, have thrived on the bluegrass and calcium-rich water of central Kentucky at Three Chimneys Farm. Through the donation of two voluntary conservation agreements to the Bluegrass Conservancy, Three Chimneys Farm owners Mr. and Mrs. Robert N. Clay have chosen to permanently preserve their land as a working farm for America’s great champion thoroughbreds.

Another example is the protection of 421 acres of Horizon Farm in Barrington Hills, Illinois created possibly the largest private land conservation easement in the state of Illinois. The Farm has been owned and operated by William J. McGinley and his family since 1983 as an extensive and active Thoroughbred breeding and foaling farm. At one time, seven stallions were standing and eighty mares were foaled each year. However, Barrington Hills is a developer’s dream.

“Horizon Farm is a wonderful place that deserved to be preserved on its own merit. When you add in the factor that it is also a major horse farm, it makes ELCR doubly delighted that it was saved,” says Kandee Haertel, Executive Director of ELCR. “This was a case where ELCR can do what it does best – Put the parties together and keep them focused on their goals. In this case the goal was preserving Horizon Farm.” The completed easement was the product of efforts by the McGinley family, the Barrington Hills Conservation Trust, The Conservation Foundation and the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource.

The preservation of Horizon Farm is a clear illustration of what people dedicated to preserving land can accomplish. How did it happen? With motivation, partnership, trust and commitment shared by all parties.

Pace Of Land Conservation Triples From 2000 – 2005:

A new report released by the Land Trust Alliance finds that the pace of private land conservation by local and state land trusts more than tripled between successive five-year periods from 2000 to 2005. America’s 1,667 state and local land trusts have doubled their conservation acres from 6 million to 11.9 million acres in the past five years – an area twice the size of the state of New Hampshire. The National Land Trust Census quantifies private, voluntary land conservation efforts in America and is the nation’s only such tabulation.

“The success of private land conservation boils down to this: When people appreciate the natural qualities of their environment, they are increasingly taking steps in each of their communities to conserve what makes that land unique,” said Rand Wentworth, President of the Land Trust Alliance. “With the federal government reporting that we lose about two million acres to development sprawl each year, private, voluntary conservation gives everyday Americans the tools and resources they need to protect their natural heritage.”

New Federal Conservation Tax Incentive:

Last August, Congress and the President sent a strong message of support to citizens who work to preserve our natural and rural heritage. The President recently signed into law new land conservation tax benefits for landowners, especially family farmers and ranchers. The new regulations, included in pension reform legislation, combine an adjusted tax incentive for land conservation with common sense reforms to ensure the public benefit of conservation donations.

Voluntary conservation agreements, known as conservation easements, are an important tool for land conservation. When landowners donate voluntary conservation agreements to a land conservation organization or land trust, they protect resources important to the public by permanently giving up future development rights, while retaining ownership and management of the land. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified conservation organization or government agency that runs with the land’s title and permanently limits a property's uses in order to protect its conservation values.

This new law will help landowners and land trusts protect important lands and traditional land uses across America. The law extends the carry-forward period for tax deductions for voluntary conservation agreements from 5 to 15 years and raises the cap on those deductions from 30 percent of a donor's adjusted gross income to 50 percent - and to 100 percent for qualifying farmers and ranchers. This allows landowners of all income levels to get a much larger benefit for donating very valuable development rights to their land. It is important to note that the incentive only applies to easements donated in 2006 and 2007. A strong and diverse coalition of hunters, farmers, ranchers, hikers and land trust supporters led by the Land Trust Alliance are hard at work to make the new incentive permanent.

Empowered with a conservation vision, new federal tax incentives, and the love of a horse, landowners and land trusts can take – must take – a running start in 2007.

About the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource: ELCR has been bringing awareness and literacy in land protection techniques to horse people for years. Thus, informed horse owners will take action themselves in their local communities. ELCR is here to help you! Contact: info@elcr.org or 815-858-3501, website: http://www.elcr.org.

About Land Trust Alliance: Land Trust Alliance was formed in 1982 to advance the mission of land trusts. Since its inception, Land Trust Alliance has trained thousands of conservation leaders, won new federal tax incentives for conservation on private lands, and developed standards and practices to professionalize and safeguard land trust work. Land Trust Alliance connects land trusts, so that every land trust can benefit from the collective wisdom and innovations of the entire community. It is based in Washington, D.C. with field offices in most regions of the country. For more information, please visit http://www.lta.org.

 

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