CHATHAM—New York’s senior United States Senator Charles Schumer attended an event at the headquarters of the Columbia Land Conservancy Saturday, December 20. He was there to show his support for tax deductions available to property owners who donate their development rights to land conservancies in order to preserve open spaces. In turn, the senator was honored for his support of this program across the state and nationwide.
Also attending the event at the Main Street offices of the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) were representatives from land trusts in other Hudson River Valley counties. In addition to Sen. Schumer, speakers included CLC Executive Director Peter Paden and Karen Ross, a landowner from New Lebanon who has donated easements to her farm, Andy Bicking, director of public policy for Scenic Hudson, and Ethan Winter, New York conservation manager for the Land Trust Alliance.
Landowners who donate development rights retain ownership of their land, but essentially forfeit all future possibilities for development. Giving up those rights could potentially leave the property owner facing a substantial financial loss, so the tax incentives are designed to offset the landowners’ loss of future income.
Columbia County already has about 5,500 acres in trust and, according to Mr. Winter. Statewide, he said, “New York land trusts have permanently conserved one million acres.”
The stated goal of the Columbia Land Conservancy is to make an “enhanced income tax deduction” permanent. But the incentives have been renewed by Congress and the president only on a yearly basis since 2006, although they have what Sen. Schumer described as bipartisan support.
Mr. Bicking later noted the program has received strong support from both Republican Congressman Chris Gibson (19th), whose district includes all of Columbia County, and Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (18th).
In his remarks, Sen. Schumer said that legislative action is necessary because the “forces of preservation never have the money that the forces of anti-preservation have.”
The senator also said that arguments in favor of development on farmland are not economically sound. “Preserving the beauty of the county… not only keeps our lives nice… it’s an economic shot in the arm,” he said.
Mr. Bicking echoed this statement, linking land preservation to the state’s “$4.2-billion tourism economy.”
Sen. Schumer also said that keeping farms intact–one of the results of land preservation–has other less tangible benefits, saying that farms “create values” because farmers are constantly faced with “huge forces of nature and God.” Without substantial tax incentives, he said, “the financial allure of development” is too strong and even landowners who would like to participate in preservation efforts “succumb” to offers for commercial, residential or industrial development.
The senator also said that the state is uniquely positioned to lead the charge for land conservancy because it has the third largest rural population in the nation and there is intense economic pressure to develop outward from New York City and from the state’s other urban centers. Sen. Schumer is from Brooklyn but has been a supporter of state agriculture since he was elected to the Senate in 1998.
Ms. Ross, the landowner from New Lebanon who said that she had donated the rights to most of her 200-acre farm, described her participation in land conservancy as “the most meaningful thing I will do with my life.” She also described her family as “just stewards passing through.”
Another donating landowner at the event said that donation was a better option than “leaving it to our heirs, who we don’t trust so much.”
The meeting ended with Mr. Schumer receiving a plaque honoring his work on the issues of land conservation.