Abusive Conservation Easements Must Be Stopped
You may have read in the news about a small group of bad actors who are using conservation easements solely for their own personal financial gain. In the conservation community, these fraudulent agreements are known as syndicated conservation easements. The Land Trust for Tennessee condemns these tax-shelters and does not participate in these types of transactions.
In fact, over a decade ago, we started rejecting projects pitched to us by financial promoters and land consultants that just didn’t pass the sniff test. These random calls often involved land in rural or remote areas that were somehow always paired with appraisal reports indicating unbelievably high land values. These proposed projects just always felt wrong – especially since we were used to working directly with local families and farmers looking to protect places they care deeply about.
So, even before these abusive transactions had an official title, we were walking away.
Today, the United States Congress and IRS have labeled these syndicated conservation easements as tax-shelters. These transactions must be stopped. A new report from the Senate Finance Committee details just how much damage is being caused by a relatively small group participating in these transactions.
To be clear, these types of projects do not represent the work of The Land Trust for Tennessee or the land trust community as a whole. We believe that conservation easements, when completed appropriately, are one of the most effective tools for protecting land for future generations.
At The Land Trust, we have a rigorous process for all of our transactions and carefully analyze each piece of a project – from beginning to end – including consideration of landowner intent, ownership structure, and conservation easement appraisals, to ensure that our transactions are legally, ethically, and technically sound. We are an accredited member of The Land Trust Alliance, and we strive every day to uphold the highest standards for conservation excellence.
We fully support The Land Trust Alliance and its partnership with Congress to stop these fraudulent easements. We simply cannot let the actions of a small group diminish the work of the greater land trust community and jeopardize the good work happening across the country.
Read more about LTA’s efforts here.
The statement is written by The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Vice President Emily Parish. Emily is a veteran conservation professional with over 18 years with the organization. She also serves as the Southeast representative on the Land Trust Alliance’s Terrafirma Members Committee.