Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Stephen and I have both chimed in on the New England Forestry Foundation v. Hawley, Massachusetts. Nancy McLaughlin has now posted a more comprehensive description and analysis of the case on the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog.
As Nancy notes, the Appellate Tax Board (the lower appellate court in this case) presented a rather narrow conception of what should qualify as charitable land, relying on a 1966 case. Proetction of forest lands can provide many ecosystem services. Of course, it is still a tricky case because many landowner have properties providing ecosystem services, but that doesn't mean they get reduced property taxes (perhaps they should!). I also wonder about what this could mean for conserved properties. It seems like it could mean individual inquiries for each property detailing exaclty how much public and private benefit the land protection yields. A requirment to pay property taxes on conserved fee properties could significantly curtail landownership by land trusts.
Those of you who want to read more can see the court filings including some really interesting amicus briefs from the conservation organizations including The Nature Conservancy and the Land Trust Alliance.