Who can save the Alabama red-bellied turtle? Maybe your accountant can. He or she will have a chance if Congress passes new legislation that would give tax breaks to landowners who act to preserve species like the Alabama red-bellied turtle, one of the creatures considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED MAY 2007
To date, the best hope for the turtle and others were protections granted them under the Endangered Species Act, a 1973 law that promises to safeguard nearly 1,300 birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and plants.
For all its good intentions, the ESA has been surrounded by controversy for the restrictions that were imposed on landowners whose properties are home to the endangered. “Private property owners … have been victims of the restrictions mandated by the original law,” says Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
Still, there is little political will in Washington for rewriting the act itself. Now lawmakers are hoping tax incentives will help make it obsolete. This year, bipartisan groups in the House and Senate have proposed legislation that would give tax credits to landowners if they spend their own money to protect and recover endangered and threatened species that live on or migrate through their property. The bills would also give landowners a tax break if they agree not to sell or develop land where endangered species live.
As of press time, no floor action was scheduled on either the House or Senate bills. But with Congress in a “green” mood, Capitol Hill watchers consider the chances good for action on the tax breaks. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) may be the key. He’s chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax-break legislation. “It’s pretty hard to jam something down somebody’s throat,” Baucus says of the ESA. “The more we move toward encouraging people to take actions on their own, the more we’re going to achieve the results we’re looking for.”