I was reading more about it today. One of the real big problems that could come back and nail all parties is that the Nature Conservancy would buy land for someone else clamp conservation restrictions on it and sell the property at a loss. The “conservation restrictions” are usually just what the new landowner wants, including houses, farming, logging, whatever. They then re-appraise the land at a lower rate and sell the property at that new value. Where they almost certainly ran afoul of the law was in requiring the new landowner to give a “donation” that would bring the amount paid back up to the original asking price. This allows the owner to get land (maybe the owner wouldn’t sell it to an individual but doesn’t mind selling it to a nice organization like TNC) at the same price and do exactly what they intended anyway, but they get a write-off of the “donation”. So really the loser is the government. And I also kind of wonder if there isn’t another deal struck with the original landowner where they donate a conservation easement to TNC before selling the land for less money and are able to write off the difference between the asking price and the lower amount as a “donation” as well. Then the government gets hit twice.
Anyway it also brings up the whole idea of conservation easements. You get a double savings where you donate an easement to an organization. First you write off the difference between the market price of your land with restrictions and without as a donation. So you get a tax break now. But because the land will now appraise for less money you can petition the county or city and have your assessment reduced. Then you save money every year on property taxes.