Help kick-start a new golden era of Colorado conservation | OPINION

March 28, 2024 | by


Faith Winter

Have you ever found yourself in a high-up place, atop one of our state’s awesome peaks for example, on a quintessential Colorado bluebird day? If you have, you know the awe-inspiring feeling of seeing for hundreds of miles in all directions across valleys and peaks, rangelands and rivers, towns and their people. It’s easy to take the beauty of those views for granted — but in doing so, we risk forgetting those views exist because of the organizations and people that have worked for generations to conserve Colorado’s lands. Without these continued conservation efforts, we risk losing part of what makes Colorado such a special place to call home.

Much like the working lands, waters and wildlife that it protects, the work of conservation is an ecosystem in which each and every constituent plays a different, but equally important role. That ecosystem includes land trusts and their partners who, since 1965, have conserved 3.3 million acres of private lands: working farms, ranches and wildlife habitats across Colorado. For the last 23 of those years, the Conservation Easement Tax Credit program has helped Colorado proactively invest in conservation by incentivizing private landowners to voluntarily protect their properties.

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Now as elements of the program are set to expire, and as more Coloradans than ever are invested in protecting our state’s lands and waters, we have an opportunity to kick-start a new golden era of conservation in Colorado — one that benefits all Coloradans. That is why we are proud to sponsor Senate Bill 126, which will extend and expand the Conservation Easement Tax Credit, alleviating years of conservation backlogs and protecting lands that might otherwise be sold and developed or converted to other uses.

Specifically, our bill will eliminate the expiration dates of the Conservation Easement Oversight Commission and the Certified Holder program. Without legislative action, elements of the Conservation Easement Tax Credit Program are scheduled to expire in 2026. These bodies are needed to maintain the quality, integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of the program.

The bill will also make more money available for conservation — by increasing the tax credit that creates incentives for landowners who choose to conserve their property. Our bill will increase the tax credit to $75 million to meet the current demand. Right now there is a $45 million cap on available tax credit funds that was established in 2014 and has not changed. It is not keeping up with demand, inflation or property values. It will address the backlog in current projects, and can ensure we do not miss opportunities for conservation efforts across the state.

Finally, our bill expands the eligibility criteria for tax credit transfers. Tax credits are transferable, but the constraints of the current system limit the pool of eligible buyers. Providing more flexibility in the eligibility criteria will increase the pool of potential buyers, creating greater incentives for investments in conservation while ensuring those who participate in conservation practices are able to fully utilize their credits.

The benefits of conservation are unique and wide-ranging — not only do Coloradans feel this, but we’ve got the numbers to back it up. A 2023 CSU Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics report shows for every $1 Colorado invests in conservation, the public receives between $31 and $49 in economic return. The total cumulative impact of conservation easement tax credits to Colorado taxpayers is estimated to be between $35 billion and $57 billion, or about $20,000 per acre conserved.

Beyond the economic benefits, conservation efforts support Colorado’s goals to reduce carbon emissions, foster biodiversity, build up and sustain rural economies and protect critical wildlife and their habitats. The conservation community is, and has been, committed to seeing all Coloradans not only benefit from easements and tax credits, but have a seat at the table as partners in the next area of protecting Colorado’s cherished lands; this includes members of historically disenfranchised communities, whose history of exclusion is included in the bill and who will now hold a dedicated seat on the Conservation Oversight Commission.

Conservation easements are impactful, no matter which part of the state you live in, how you support your family, or whether you spend your free time in the backcountry or urban parks and open spaces. We hope you’ll join us supporting this important legislation that transcends partisan divides. When it succeeds, it will help us protect the places that will keep Colorado healthy, beautiful and resilient for generations to come.

Faith Winter, D-Westminster, represents District 25, which includes Broomfield and parts of Westminster and Northglenn, in the Colorado Senate. Perry Will, R-New Castle, represents District 5 on the Western Slope in the Colorado Senate. 


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