The Land Trust Alliance is continually working on policies and issues that are important to land trusts — but our voices are even stronger together. The relationships you build with lawmakers at the local level affect our ability to move legislation on Capitol Hill.

Our partner, Natural Lands Trust in southeast Pennsylvania, recently hosted two local officials and champions of the conservation tax incentive, Reps. Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello, to celebrate the addition of 234 acres to the state forest system. The project was completed with federal, state, local and private funds, and will be used in part as a model of best practices for local landowners interested in managing and conserving their forests.

Last year we launched our Ambassadors Initiative, seeking conservationists who will commit to developing relationships with elected officials to advance federal conservation policies and programs. We now boast a team of 150 Ambassadors. Learn more about becoming an Ambassador by watching this video or take the pledge today.

Action coming on tax incentive soon?

As senators return from July 4th celebrations, they’re turning their attention to must-pass pieces of legislation before the August recess. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), indicated that his committee may mark up tax legislation as soon as next week.

With this action looming, it is important that we continue to gain co-sponsors of S. 330 and ask senators to go on record supporting this important provision. Every new co-sponsor increases our chance of getting the permanent enhanced easement incentive into this package and passed in time to affect conservation this year.

We are up to 29 co-sponsors — if your senator is a co-sponsor, please be sure to thank him or her; if they aren’t please ask him or her to cosponsor! Find out if your senator is a co-sponsor or view talking points for gaining Senate co-sponsors.

Funding bills continue, Senate restores key programs

The House and Senate continue to debate spending bills for Fiscal Year 2016. This week, the House passed its Interior bill that funds conservation programs — cutting $58 million from last year’s figure for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (now totaling $248 million). Other programs, like Forest Legacy and North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants, maintained levels similar to last year’s.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is following with its own bill and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jon Tester (D-MT) successfully passed an amendment that restored funding of LWCF to last year’s level of $306.1 million and included increases for several programs above last year’s level. If your senator is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, please thank him or her!

See how the proposed funding compares to recent years »

We recently partnered with the Trust for Public Land to send a letter to the Forest Service advocating for a higher level of funding for the Community Forest Program (CFP) in its budget request for Fiscal Year 2017. CFP was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to give grants to land trusts and local governments for the acquisition of forest land that ensures public access and prevents conversion to non-working uses. CFP has been funded recently around $2 million annually.

For more frequent updates and details on legislation affecting land trust policy priorities, please subscribe to the policy issue-focused emails of interest, or follow the Policy Team on Twitter for breaking news.

LWCF re-authorization draws land trusts together in Montana, Capitol Hill

Last week, Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) hiked and held a roundtable with local land trust leaders on permanently extending LWCF, which expires in September. Sen. Daines is a supporter of extending the program that helps fund the acquisition of land and easements for recreation and wildlife habitat. Groups like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Trust for Public Land and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation met with the senator to discuss the program and the chances of reauthorizing it before it expires.

The program has enjoyed bipartisan support since its creation 50 years ago, but it has been questioned by some conservatives who oppose adding more land to the federal portfolio. The program is funded entirely through royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling and is the source of funding for many other programs as well, such as Forest Legacy, grants for restoring endangered species habitat and grants to state and local recreation agencies. Legislation is currently pending in the House (H.R. 1814) and Senate (S. 890) to permanently reauthorize the program.

Is your member of Congress a co-sponsor? If so, thank him or her for advocating for this important and successful conservation program!

Members also recently advocated for the program on Capitol Hill, holding a press conference highlighting many successes throughout the history of the program, and even the role of land trusts! Check out coverage of the event on the Alliance and LWCF Facebook pages.