Landowners can apply for federal funds

COVINGTON -- Georgia landowners have access to millions of dollars worth of financial incentives for agreeing to protect their properties from development, but many aren't aware of it.

There are likely landowners in Newton who qualify for tax credits and payouts from the federal government, according to Shannon Mayfield, director of land conservation with the Georgia Conservancy Land Conservation Program.

"Newton County is an exemplary county in the state in terms of land conservation," Mayfield said.

Mayfield said Georgia receives around $10 million annually for conservation easement programs made possible by the Farm Bill and administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Landowners who agree to permanently protect their land from certain uses, such as subdivision development, strip mining and aggressive timber cutting, may be eligible to receive a cash payment from the United States Department of Agriculture. The payments are calculated based on acreage. Among the programs available are the Farm and Ranch Protection Program for working farms; the Wetland Reserve Program for owners of land along swamps, marshes or streams; and the Grasslands Reserve Program for pastures and grasslands.

Owners retain their property and may continue to hunt, fish, hike and farm.

The application process is competitive and not all will qualify, but few even try, and the money winds up being sent back to the federal government, Mayfield said.

"Sometimes funding follows the applications. When you send money back it creates the impression it's not needed in that area," he said.

Tax incentives are also available for landowners who make traditional conservation easement donations.

Property owners may be eligible to receive credits of up to 25 percent of the value of donated land. This year, for the first time, Georgia tax credits earned from such a donation are transferable, "so people who do have a high tax liability can buy your credits and they trade at about 80 or 85 cents on the dollar," Mayfield said.

Landowners who want more information can contact Mayfield at 404-876-2900, ext. 113 or by email at smayfield@gaconsevancy.org.

Georgia Conservancy is a statewide, non-profit organization that works to protect the state's natural environment by advocating for sound environmental policies, advancing sustainable growth practices and facilitating solutions to environmental challenges.