"Fiscal Cliff" Tax Benefits
When Congress passed the fiscal cliff deal at the beginning of 2013, legislators renewed the enhanced income tax deduction for conservation easements through 2013, and also retroactive to the beginning of 2012. According to Northwoods Land Trust Executive Director Bryan Pierce, this incentive helps land trusts work with modest-income landowners to encourage voluntary conservation of their natural shorelands, woodlands and wetlands in northern Wisconsin.
“We are delighted that this critical conservation tool was extended, and has continued to receive broad, bipartisan support,” said Pierce. Pierce noted that the enhanced tax benefits were first approved in 2006. The law raises the maximum deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement from 30% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in any year to 50%, and increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 years to 16 years.
Pierce explained that these changes have enabled moderate-income landowners, like many permanent residents in the northwoods, to take better advantage of the charitable deduction for donating a conservation easement on their land. Under prior law, a land rich, but moderate-income property owner earning $50,000 a year who donated a conservation easement worth $1 million could take a total of no more than $90,000 in tax deductions. Under the new law, that landowner can take as much as $400,000 in tax deductions over the 16-year period – still far less than the full value of their donation, but a significant increase.
Beyond the two-year extension, bills in 2012 to make the incentive permanent, S. 339 and H.R. 1964, had an impressive 311 co-sponsors in the House, including majorities of both parties. Locally, Representatives Reid Ribble and Sean Duffy were co-sponsors of H.R. 1964. “We hope that the conservation incentive will be reintroduced in 2013 so landowners can better plan their land conservation in the future,” said Pierce.
The 2006 law also set higher standards for appraisers and appraisals of all donated property, and set higher penalties for abusive appraisals. Conservationists supported this to ensure the integrity of the charitable donation process. The law also tightened restrictions on donations of easements to protect historic buildings. These reforms did not expire at the end of last year.
Despite over 300 co-sponsors, the 112th Congress failed to make the incentive permanent, but the Northwoods Land Trust will continue to cooperate with the Land Trust Alliance to get the legislation reintroduced early in the 113th Congress.
2012 Annual Meeting featured tour of Winter Park Pines
NWLT's 2012 Annual meeting was held on Saturday, June 2nd at the Minocqua Winter Park ski chalet. Open to the public, the event included a free light lunch and social time with the Board. The meeting highlighted a "virtual tour" of conservation projects completed in the last year.
Immediately following the meeting, a walking tour was conducted of the new Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve property, hosted by landowner Ken Aldridge. All together, the project has protected 3,195 acres and over 13 miles of natural river, stream and lake shorelines! The conservation agreement also provides for permanent public winter recreation access on about 43 kilometers (25 miles) of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails - one of the premier ski trail systems in the Midwest. Special thanks to the Lakeland Ski Touring Foundation board for making the chalet available for our annual meeting event.
Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve Dedicated
The dedication of the new Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve was held on Thursday, December 29th at 11 a.m. at the Minocqua Winter Park chalet. On December 1, 2011, the Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve was established with the granting of a perpetual conservation easement by Ken and Carolyn Aldridge to the Northwoods Land Trust. This 3,195 acre property - nearly five square miles - includes about 43 kilometers of cross-country ski and snow shoe trails at the core of the Minocqua Winter Park Nordic Center’s trail system.
This project is the largest conservation easement ever donated to a land trust in Wisconsin, and is an early Christmas present for the many friends of Minocqua Winter Park. Minocqua Winter Park is regarded as one of the premier cross-country ski trail systems in the Midwest.
The ski chalet is located on 40 acres of land owned by the Town of Minocqua and managed for public use under an agreement with the Lakeland Ski Touring Foundation, Inc. The Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve surrounds the chalet property.
Through the land protection agreement, the Aldridges have granted skiers perpetual access to the existing trails and have placed limits on forestry practices, land fragmentation, and development which will keep the land in its natural state. The land will remain open to the public forever for winter silent sports including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and skijoring (skiing with dogs).
Ski trails now protected include the Base Loop, Tornado Alley, Survivor Windy Ridge, Nutcracker, Nose Dive, Beaver Pond, Creek Trail, Red Pine, Silver Strider, Sleigh Ride, VO2 Max, Nepco's Cruise, most of X-C Express and River Run, as well as the northern half of Yukon. Much of the newly expanded snowshoe trail system is protected as well.
The conservation agreement also protects over 13 miles of natural shorelines on the Squirrel River, Yukon Creek, Howard’s Creek, and other small, un-named streams and ponds. In addition, the land provides natural habitat buffers around and adjacent to the Squirrel River Pines State Natural Area.
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust to permanently protect a property's natural characteristics by limiting how it can be used. The Northwoods Land Trust is committed to monitoring the land each year and ensuring that the easement's terms are carried out in perpetuity .To get to Minocqua Winter Park, take Hwy. 70 about 6.5 miles west of Minocqua, turn south on Squirrel Lake Road for about 4 miles, and follow the signs east ¼ mile on Scotchman Lake Road to the entrance drive. For more information on the preserve or dedication, check out the March 2012 newsletter or contact land trust Executive Director Bryan Pierce at (715) 479-2490.
Taking part in the signing were (from left) Atty. Tom Lawrence, Lakeland Ski Touring Foundation President Pam Fashingbauer, landowners Ken and Carolyn Aldridge, NWLT President Mary Schwaiger, Lakeland Ski Touring Foundation Director and Past-President Dr. David Kozeluh, and NWLT Executive Director Bryan Pierce.
NWLT's 10th Anniversary Celebration & Family Land Succession Planning Workshop!
Based on the very popular Saving your Family Cabin/Preserving Family Land seminars held in August, Atty. Melissa Kampmann, an estate planning specialist with the Ruder-Ware Law Firm in Wausau, shared family succession planning information as part of NWLT's 10th Anniversary Celebration. This seminar was of great interest to current and prospective conservation easement donors, as well as other private landowners interested in finding out how best to pass cherished family lands down to succeeding generations.
The event was held on Saturday, July 30th, 2011 at Eagle Waters Resort east of Eagle River. The Celebration Banquet included lots of good food, some unique silent auction items, and a wonderful opportunity to share NWLT's past successes and look ahead to the future. Contact the NWLT office if you would like a copy of our special commemorative publication on "Celebrating 10 years of Northwoods Conservation" at (715) 479-2490.
(Above) Executive Director Bryan Pierce presented 10-year NWLT-logo canoe paddle awards to founding Board members (from left) John Huppert, Jim Holperin, Willa Schmidt and Mary Schwaiger.
Special Thanks to our Major Sponsors: Mike & Peg Uihlein, the Dale Druckrey Conservation Fund of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and Bryan Pierce & Gail Gilson-Pierce. Our Table Sponsors included Dan Wisniewski & Fran DeGraff, Mitch & Sara Olson, Pete & Brenda Davison, John & Jan Huppert, and Jim & Kathy Holperin.
Thanks too to our Silent Auction Contributors: "A Step Up" Gift Shop in Minocqua, John Bates/Trails North, Scott Craven, Pete Davison, Bill Dickens, Gail Gilson-Pierce, Jan Huppert, John Huppert, Bob Martini, Trisha Moore, Bryan PIerce, Meta Reigel, Springstead Lake Lodge, St. Croix Rod Company, Beth Tornes, Trees For Tomorrow, Dan Wisniewski, Lisa Wood and the Woodland Indian Art Center in Lac du Flambeau. Other10th Anniversary Contributors included: Diana Anderson, Willa Schmidt, DiAnne & Terry Hatch, Meta Reigel, Dale Lang, Walt & Nina Wellenstein, Walt & Donna Gager, River Valley Bank, Beth Tornes & Bill Dickens Jr., Bill and Jackie Dickens, David & Minka Dawson, Dan & Carol Paretsky, Ginny Parker, Kate Stafford, Betty Beverly, Lorraine (Carol) Haas, Paulette Cary, Leslie Gulliford & Peter Victora, and Chris & Mary McCann. Our sincerest appreciation to all!
Dedication of the Dugan Squash Lake Nature Preserve
The new Dugan Squash Lake Nature Preserve was dedicated immediately following the 2010 Northwoods Land Trust Annual Meeting held on Friday, June 11th. This 5.6-acre undeveloped property on the south shore of Squash Lake was purchased and then donated by Pat and Sue Dugan of Rhinelander for protection by NWLT. A unique, narrow esker peninsula extending far into the lake and creating its own small bay is an extraordinary feature of this property. The preserve is open to the public for non-motorized nature-based recreation activities including hiking, birding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fishing. The esker peninsula is accessible only by boat or over the ice. For more information, check out the Summer 2010 newsletter article. For a map of the property, go to Dugan Squash Lake Nature Preserve. Thanks to all who joined us for the Annual Meeting and Dedication!
Looking ahead with the Northwoods Land Trust
He was concerned about how quickly the surrounding lands have been subdivided and developed, and was sad as he told me how he didn’t act quickly enough to save another 750 acres before it was split up.
His face lit up when we rounded a bend and spotted two adult bald eagles perched on a dead snag. He listened intently to my explanation of how land protection agreements, or conservation easements, can keep properties like his wild and intact on into the future.
He wanted to know more about the newly-enhanced income tax benefits of donating a conservation easement, but that wasn’t why he had called me. Through his hand shake as I was leaving, I could feel his commitment to conserve some of the northwoods for all of the generations to come.
Next I drove down to Oneida County to visit yet another conservation project. This 144.5-acre property abuts state land and includes over a half-mile of swamp frontage on a lake.
“You can’t get there from here,” except by foot or by boat, is one of the challenges and benefits of this property. Parking on state land, I walked along an old ditch line trail following deer and coyote tracks for over a half mile. I crossed some marsh pockets and took photos of the tamarack-spruce swamp on the open horizon that marked the boundary of this property.
This is clearly a spot left untouched through time. Underneath the canopy of tamaracks and black spruce is an ancient matt of sphagnum moss and bog sedges. Just one small island of higher ground is surrounded by thick swamp. I found some grouse tracks and realized these could be from a spruce grouse. Less than a mile from here in the same type of habitat is one of the rare sites in Wisconsin where I’ve seen spruce grouse, gray jays, black-backed woodpeckers and boreal chickadees.
This property is now our first nature preserve. The landowner gifted the land as an outright donation to the Northwoods Land Trust. Her gift keeps some of this beautiful lake shoreline and undisturbed boreal forest wildlife habitat forever wild – a gift that will last long beyond her lifetime.
But there are costs to the Northwoods Land Trust to preserve such lands. With nine new land protection projects in Vilas, Oneida and Iron counties recently completed, we must raise nearly $50,000 of contributions just to cover the significant costs of ensuring we can protect these lands forever. Contributions from our supporters are critical to help encourage these and other landowners to make that incredible step of ensuring outstanding properties are conserved now. Time is running out.
We have now achieved our next great milestones in protecting the northwoods –
- Three nature preserves on private lands donated outright to NWLT to be kept entirely in their natural state, where wild things will take precedence now and for generations to come.
- Over 40 Miles of lake and river shorelines that will remain forever pristine.
- Over 8,500 total acres of woodlands, wetlands, lake and river shorelands and wildlife habitat protected forever.
It is the goal of the Northwoods Land Trust to keep part of the northwoods forever wild – we invite and encourage you to participate in that effort. There is no better feeling than knowing that you have helped to protect this place we all love – for all time.
Bryan Pierce, Executive Director