Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, I want to take this opportunity to discuss an issue of importance to Alaska Native communities. The legislation currently under consideration would extend through 2011 the enhanced tax incentive for donations of qualified conservation easements. Unfortunately, Alaskan Native communities are ineligible under this provision and, as a result, do not have access to the tools they need to permanently protect historical or critical habitat.
For thousands of years, Alaska has been home to Native communities, whose rich heritages, languages, and traditions have thrived in the region's unique landscape. These communities continue to engage in a traditional subsistence lifestyle and harvest their food from the land. Nearly 70 percent of Native communities' food comes from the land and, for many communities, subsistence is an economic necessity considering the cost and difficulty involved in purchasing food.
I, along with my colleague, Ms. Murkowski, have proposed legislation, S. 1673, which would provide parity. Our proposal is imperative to the long-term survival of Alaska-Native communities and Alaska's nature resources, which makes this critical legislation timely. Development pressures are increasingly significantly in many parts of Alaska. This legislation will allow private land owned by Alaska Native communities to be protected, while facilitating development that will spur needed economic activity and job growth.
We have worked with the Senate Finance Committee over the past 2 years to ensure that this provision is ready for enactment. It is widely supported by the conservation community. I was hopeful it would be included in the end-of-the-year tax package the Senate is currently considering. Since the Senate was unable to address Alaska Native conservation parity before the end of the 111th Congress, I would be interested in learning, from the chairman of the Finance Committee, what his plans are for advancing the proposal in the 112th Congress.
Mr. BAUCUS. I am happy to respond to Mr. Begich from Alaska. I support the conservation easement deduction and sympathize with the Senator's efforts. I will work with Mr. Begich and Ms. Murkowski to address conservation issues in the new Congress.
Mr. BEGICH. I thank you, Mr. Baucus. I appreciate the Senator's support on this issue, and look forward to working with him and my other Senate colleagues to pass this much needed piece of legislation as soon as an opportunity presents itself in the new Congress.