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Coalition will seek easement tax breaks

BOISE – A coalition of ranchers, environmental groups, timber growers and farmers – allied by the rapid growth that’s eating up Idaho’s wild and agricultural lands – says it will try again to enact tax breaks for conservation easements in the 2008 Legislature.

The Idaho Working Lands Initiative wants ranchers, timberland owners and farmers to be able to claim a state income tax credit for lands protected from development with conservation easements. Those easements could be with government or private land trusts.

Last year, a measure failed that would have set the tax credit at 50 percent of the appraised value of the lands.

Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, a rancher who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, said the chances are good that some type of tax-credit bill will be passed by lawmakers in 2008.

“I was amazed,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “Everybody was reasonable. I’m impressed so many people with that many different interests would come together.”

In 2005, the Nature Conservancy began the push to protect open space in Idaho. That organization as well as the Idaho Farm Bureau, Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Wool Growers, Intermountain Forest Association, Idaho Conservation League, Trust for Public Land, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Idaho Wildlife Federation are part of the Working Lands Initiative.

“It is a remarkable coalition,” said Boise State’s John Freemuth, an expert on western land use. “This is the way you build consensus in Idaho.”

What has helped bridge the gap between people who work the land and people who want wild places protected is that both are disappearing in Idaho.

“A lot of people in our industry have been critical of The Nature Conservancy,” said Jim Little, of Emmett, a descendant of ranchers who helped convince cattlemen that the Working Lands Initiative was in their best interest. “But we woke up to the fact that what they’re trying to do really gets in line with what of a lot of us ranchers want. We want open space. We like to see wildlife. And when our neighbors sell out, we’re losers also.”

The measure that sponsors want to pitch to the 2008 Legislature would make a good fit with Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to establish a $50 million trust to preserve private lands that are deemed to have significant value for wildlife.

Idaho trails the pack when it comes to land-protection incentives. Wyoming and Nevada have $200 million land trusts. New Mexico, Colorado and California offer tax credits.

“You lose a little tax revenue, but what have you gained?” asked Kirk David, who owns timberland in Kootenai County. “You’ve kept the quality of life, you’ve kept the things everybody likes about Idaho.”


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