PRAIRIES ARE AMONG THE MOST THREATENED ECOSYSTEMS IN NORTH AMERICA. Most remaining prairies are privately owned, making cooperation between landowners and conservationists essential for their preservation.
Consequently, in 2002, Northern Prairies Land Trust entered into a cooperative relationship with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission to implement habitat improvement projects on privately owned prairies. Our initial work was focused in areas that are now called the Sandstone Prairies Biologically Unique Landscape (BUL) and Southeast Prairies BUL in southeast Nebraska. We subsequently extended our prairie-focused work to the Verdigris-Bazile, the Middle Niobrara River Valley, and Keya Paha Watershed BULs in northeast Nebraska. Over the past fifteen years, using funding from a series of successful NPLT grant proposals to the Nebraska Environmental Trust combined with funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, we have worked with over 300 landowners to enhance nearly 90,000 acres of grassland, primarily through implementation of invasive tree clearing, prescribed fire, planned grazing and high diversity seeding. Starting in 2009, we also began to focus some of the effort on the oak woodlands that rim the eastern side of Nebraska. Similarly to prairies, oak woodlands and savannas have experienced massive declines over the past century and the remnants are degrading due to lack of appropriate management. We are spearheading large-scale restoration efforts at Ponca State Park and Indian Cave State Park involving prescribed fire and invasive species control. In addition, we have completed more than two dozen habitat improvement projects on over 5,000 acres of privately owned oak woodlands.
Permanent Tax Incentives for Donated Conservation Easements
Congress has re-affirmed its commitment to the permanent tax incentive for donations of conservation easements. A fully-detailed description of the law appears elsewhere in this website, but its importance to conservation-minded landowners cannot be over-emphasized.
The basic points of the law are:
- It raises the deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement from 30% of his or her income in any year to 50%.
- It allows qualifying farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100% of their income; and,
- It extends the carry-forward for a donor to take tax deductions for a voluntary conservation agreement from 5 to 15 years.
As explained by Jessica Jay, a leading land conservation attorney: “The major point of the incentive was that many agricultural landowners wanted to give easements but got virtually no federal tax benefits, given that they could deduct
only 30% of their income for the year of donation plus five years. With 50% or 100% and 15 years, those cash-poor, land-rich landowners (with smaller incomes) have much more motivation to protect their land and make use of the tax benefits.”
As landowners all over the country explore making a conservation donation — on all types of landscapes — the enhanced deduction for conservation easement donations can be the factor that moves them from thought to action.
NORTHERN PRAIRIES LAND TRUST PLAYS KEY ROLE IN EXPANDING BISON RANGE IN BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
As the result of a complex land exchange in which Northern Prairie played a key role, 30,000 additional acres of bison range has been added in Badlands National Park, allowing for the expansion of the bison herd to about 1,000 head – the size recommended as a minimum for maintaining genetic diversity. The exchange has been described as one of the most important events in Park history, and a huge step forward in protecting native grasslands species of all kinds.
SERVING AS SOUTH DAKOTA’S ONLY GENERAL LAND TRUST
When Northern Prairies organized in 1999 there were no general land trusts in either South Dakota or Nebraska. Although there is now a second small land trust in Nebraska, Northern Prairies remains the only general land trust in South Dakota. This requires that we respond to inquiries from interested landowners across the State, providing the expertise needed to guide them to conservation solutions. In support of this responsibility, Northern Prairies was one of the first land trusts in the nation to be fully accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.
In addition to the many conservation easements held as part of the Big Sioux River Project, Northern Prairies has accepted and holds important easements elsewhere. On the Missouri National Recreational River, for example, it holds easements which protect some of the remaining intact bottomlands on this heavily-developed River.
Conservation Easements Maintain a Legacy
Fairbury, NE – Cattle will be grazing on the prairie hills southwest of Fairbury, Nebraska, for generations to come thanks to landowners interested in preserving the land for their family. In July of this year, Jim and Ann McCord granted a 1043 Acre perpetual conservation easement to Northern Prairies Land Trust that would prohibit cropping and development, yet maintain the property as a working cattle ranch.
HOW FINE-TUNED ARE YOUR BIRD IDENTIFICATION SKILLS?
Gerhard Assenmacher, a landowner in south-central Nebraska, who donated a conservation easement to Northern Prairies, has photographed a wonderful collection of birds located on his property. Click here to see how many you can identify.