Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Tax incentives for land conservation

For all the bad news coming out of our nation’s capital, sometimes our elected officials actually introduce legislation that makes good sense for conservation.

There are a couple of pieces of legislation that would, if they become law, be a great help to conservation not only here in the Valley but across the country.

The first bill is the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. It was introduced on April 1, in the U.S. House of Representatives, by Representatives Mike Thompson, D-Calif. and seventh district representative Eric I. Cantor, R-Va.

A similar bill, known as the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Max Baucus, D-Mont. and Charles Grassely, R-Iowa.

These bills would make permanent the enhanced tax deduction for landowners who donate the fair market value of their land under a qualified conservation easement.

The deduction allows farmers and ranchers to claim a charitable deduction for up to 100 percent of the donated value of the land they place under an easement. Other landowners can deduct up to 50 percent of the value, an increase from 30 percent under the previous law.

These enhanced tax incentives became law in 2006 and were extended in 2008. Unfortunately, this enhanced deduction expires at the end of the year.

“I have seen firsthand how conservation easements are being used by family farms in my district,” said Cantor. “Providing a permanent tax incentive for conservation easements is a great way to encourage conservation efforts while also reducing the tax burden on these hard working families.”

Easements are an important conservation tool. According to the Valley Conservation Council, on whose Board of Directors I sit, easements have helped protect more than 48,000 acres here in the valley.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement, usually between the landowner and a land conservation organization or a public entity. The landowner continues to own the property but gives some rights to the easement holder.

Landowners often put some or all of their land under a conservation easement because they want to protect the important natural, historic or scenic qualities or their land.

Besides the charitable deduction, there can be other important tax benefits to landowners who place a conservation easement on their property.

Because of the way land is taxed, state and local taxes may be reduced.

Conservation easements could also mean lower estate and inheritance taxes. Heirs might be able to retain land they otherwise would have been forced to sell in order to pay those taxes.

Now the tax code is a tricky thing, so I won’t offer any advice on whether a donated easement makes tax sense for you. You will need to talk to the tax professionals about your specific situation.

You can also contact the Valley Conservation Council for more information as well.

What I will tell you is conservation easements are a good thing.

They help keep farmers and ranchers on their land.

Easements are also an important tool for protecting water and air quality, scenic vistas, open space and important fish and wildlife habitat. Benefits we often take for granted because they originate on private land.

The enhanced tax incentives favor working farms and ranches. By doing so, it creates an incentive to keep working lands working – less likely to become strip malls and subdivisions.

Here in the Valley that is a good thing.

You can read more of my columns at News Virginian.com

New Web site promotes recruitment and retention of hunters

Here is the Wildlife Management Institute’s announcement:

The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) announced the launch of a new Website dedicated to sustaining and enhancing North America’s hunting heritage.  The Website, www.huntingheritage.org, will serve as a clearinghouse for information, programs and contacts related to programs that advance safe and ethical recreational hunting.  The Website was premiered at the 74th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference last month in Arlington, Virginia.

The Website currently hosts the Recruitment and Retention Assessment Survey Report.  This report was designed and prepared by WMI in cooperation with D.J. Case & Associates.  It provides the most comprehensive assessment of current efforts by all 50 states and 19 conservation organizations to recruit and retain hunters nationwide.  In addition, the Website provides a real-time compilation of recruitment and retention program details.  State agencies and conservation organizations are encouraged to share their program details with colleagues from other agencies and organizations.  WMI and D.J. Case & Associates expect a summer release of a companion report about hunting-access programs for each of the state and federal resource and land management agencies.

The above efforts form a basis for the Hunting Heritage Action Plan (Action Plan).  The Action Plan was conceived by the Hunting Heritage Steering Committee.  It will entail assessment, analysis and strategies to enhance hunting by examining seven programmatic areas: the role that hunting and hunters in conservation; conservation education; hunter recruitment and retention; social and economic impacts of hunting; political and legal obstacles and opportunities; outreach; and a funding plan to address gaps in program coverage.

The Action Plan was modeled after the successful North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), which was developed to counter declining waterfowl numbers.  Just as NAWMP became a rallying mechanism for wetland and waterfowl enthusiasts in the mid-1980s, the Action Plan will provide comprehensive information for the determination of national strategies, objectives and priorities to counter declining hunter numbers.  Individuals, agencies, organizations and industry are encouraged to provide support for this important effort.The Website and Action Plan were partially funded by the Multistate Conservation Grant Program and the Wildlife Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The launch of www.huntingheritage.org provides the information system that will drive future efforts to sustain our hunting heritage,” remarked WMI President Steve Williams.  “WMI would like to thank the federal and state agency and conservation organization contacts who helped compile this critical information.   Thanks also are due Bob Byrne, Jon Marshall and other D.J. Case & Associates staff who developed the informative Website. The success of efforts to advance hunting through effective hunter recruitment and retention requires comprehensive and accurate baseline information.   WMI encourages agencies, organizations and individuals to update and utilize the Website.”

What you can do to stop spreading aquatic nuisance species

Aquatic nuisance species are a growing concern in the fishing and boating community. While many of us who hunt and fish care a great deal about conserving and protecting our habitat, we may be ignoring a growing problem.

For many years, aquatic nuisance species, also called aquatic invasive species, were considered to be a problem in the west and Great Lakes, not here in Virginia.

You may have heard about whirling disease in the western rivers or New Zealand mud snails in trophy trout waters in Idaho, Montana and the Yellowstone National Park. Didymo or “rock snot” was fouling those waters as well.

Unfortunately for us, we now have to worry. Didymo, short for Didymosphenia geminata, has been found below the dams on the Smith River, the Jackson River and the Pound River.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Didymo can smother streambeds and adversely affect freshwater fish, plants and invertebrate populations by depriving them of habitat. These stalks can form a thick brown mat, effectively covering the entire river channel.”

No one seems to know for sure how it got here. What is important is not to spread it.

What can we do?

Like many die-hard fisherman I was convinced that felt was the best bottom for my wading boots. Felt grips well on wet and algae covered rocks.

The problem with felt is it is also a great transport mechanism for mud and other junk that can hold microorganisms and aquatic invasive species.

I have used sticky rubber soled boots for the last five years. Recently, I replaced my old boots with Simms G4 Guide boots. Simms switched from AquaStealth and now uses a Vibram 360 lugsole. I have been using them this spring and am impressed with the way they grip.

Simms announced they would phase out felt soles on all of their wading boots, sandals and shoes by 2010.

“We know felt is not the only material that has spread invasive species and disease,” Simms president K.C. Walsh said. “But felt is surely part of the problem. At Simms, we’ve decided to be part of the solution.”

Simms however is not alone in moving away from felt. Trout Unlimited has asked all manufactures to drop felt by 2011.

At L.L. Bean, their Riverkeeper line uses AquaStealth. Mike Gawtry, Bean’s product line manager told me, “we are going to exit felt by 2010.”

A nice touch and typical of L.L. Bean is the cleaning brush they include with the boots.

Orvis offers a sticky rubber boot in the Clearwater Navigator Rubber Sole Shoe and the Side-Zip Brogue Boots. Both boots have studs in the rubber soles.

“Orvis uses its own sticky rubber compound,” Tim Daughton product development specialist at Orvis told me. “We plan to continue to expand the non-felt options.”

Cloudveil’s 8X grippy rubber boot uses a Vibram Idrogrip sole. The tread pattern is different from the others resembling a car tire tread.

Patagonia uses its own Star Tread sticky rubber. I have not used their boots but knowing the company I expect the boots work well, folks I trust confirmed that.

Bill Dawson, a sales representative for Cloudveil worries that anglers may think just getting new boots is going to solve the problem. Dawson notes there are other pathways like fabric, laces, crevices that can carry bad stuff from place to place.

Bill Klyn, Patagonia’s marketing manager says anglers need to change their behavior as well as the soles of their boots. “inspect, clean and dry needs to be the mantra for all anglers now.”

Inspect your gear to get the plants, mud and debris off. Next, take a moment to rinse and scrub your boots and waders streamside or at home to make sure all the mud and debris is off. Then if you can, let it dry before fishing in different water.

Learn more and take the Clean Angler Pledge at http://www.cleanangling.org. Hat tip to @roughfisher on Twitter.

Big win for brookies

Trout Unlimited applauds Federal Judge’s decision to prevent West Virginia mountaintop removal mining companies from filling valleys with mining waste. Here is TU’s Press Release.

This destructive practice has go on for far to long. Finally some much needed scrutiny and review is taking place.

Conservation Easement Incentive Act introduced

Tax incentives as conservation tools

One of the most important tools for conservation is the tax deduction available for land owners who donate the value of conservation easements that permanently protect protect their land under that conservation easement.

The deduction is set to expire at the end of the year.

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act

On March 31, Representatives Thompson (D-CA) and Cantor (R-VA) introduced the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, H.R. 1831, making this valuable conservation tool permanent.

Donating a conservation easement is a big financial decision for many landowners. Under current law conservation easement donors can:
•    Deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income in any year;
•    Deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income if the majority of that income came from farming, ranching or forestry; and
•    Continue to take deductions for as long as 16 years.

Making the conservation easement incentive permanent will help working lands stay working lands and provide important conservation benefits for everyone.

The Land Trust Alliance has more information.

Teaching our kids to fish

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to spend some time at the Western Virginia Sports Show. Mark Hanger, the producer and owner of the show impressed me with his commitment to conservation and getting families interested in the great outdoors.

When I caught up with Hanger at the show I asked him how the attendance was. He told me it was better than they expected given the economy, then he made an interesting observation.

“The only thing we can point to is they want to be happy for a while, they don’t want to hear any bad news. They want to be enlightened, entertained and come out and spend some time with their family at a reasonable cost and have some good entertainment,” he said.

In his show brochure Hanger said “on your next trip, take a young person with you and teach them to love, respect and enjoy God’s great outdoors.”

I asked him about getting kids into the outdoors.

“There is no doubt about it that that is the most important because it is our future. If we don’t get children in the outdoors, then our sports are going to diminish and be gone forever,” he said.

Hanger pointed out a number of educational elements at the show including the Bucks, Bows and Does, Outdoor Adventure archery education trailer and the show’s wild game display.

A great example of getting kids engaged in the outdoors was the Orange County High School Anglers Club. They are a 4-H and Junior B.A.S.S. Federation Nation club.

The club is made up of students ages 11 to 19 who love to bass fish competitively.

I spoke with Becky Gore, the club’s advisor. Gore is a teacher and a former coach. She is the power house behind the club and a joy to talk with. If every school in the Valley can find a Becky Gore, then fishing will have a very bright future.

Gore told me how she got the club started.

“In 1999, about ten years after my husband had died, I had just gotten my kids in college. I decided I wanted to start fishing again, so I went to the high school principal and said I would like to start a fishing club and she said ‘sure, go for it,’ ” Gore said. “We have three entities, we were first 4-H and the high school together, and then the B.A.S.S. Federation found out about me and they were trying to implement a youth program in Virginia. They called me up and asked me if would I be interested. I asked what they could do for my kids. They said they could advance to a world level. I said ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Plus, they mentioned the word scholarship and I jumped on it.”

Gore told me what other high schools could do to get do to get the program started. She ticked these items.

“You’ve got to have someone who loves kids and loves being with kids and is willing to do it without getting compensated,” she said. “You’ve got to have some kids that are interested. Once those kids approach that principal and say ‘We want a bass club,’ then that principal may go out or tell those kids, ‘Well, you find a sponsor and then we will do it.’ ”

Gore told me the kids can receive their high school letter if they meet the criteria. She has developed that criteria and told me that all another coach or teacher needs to do is contact her and she would be happy to share it with them.

“And that is the other cool thing about this, it’s parents and kids working together,” she said. “And the other thing I have tried to do is give the kids an opportunity to be with their parents. Be with their dads or moms out on the water on a Saturday or Sunday.”

Gore credits the parents, students and her volunteers for making the program a success. She considers them all family.

Nothing is more important for the future of hunting and fishing than helping the next generation learn about the sports we love. Let’s all do a little more where we can.