Newswise — Are you interested in hearing from the IRS and national experts about recent court cases, IRS guidance, and DOJ actions involving conservation easements? "Trying Times: Conservation Easements and Federal Tax Law"  on May 3 at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City offers a program that will address the most salient federal tax law issues impacting conservation easement transactions today. The program is available to participants in person on campus or online. Both in-person and online attendees will have the opportunity to pose questions to the IRS representative and other expert panelists. This program will benefit land trusts, government agencies, landowners, attorneys, judges, appraisers, CPAs, academics, and anyone else with an interest in conservation easements.

3.5 hours Utah CLE (pending). Utah online attendees will need to apply for self-study CLE credits. For CLE in other states, or for continuing education credits from other professional associations, attendees should apply directly to the associations.

Register online >>

$100 Attorney, Appraiser, CPA
$30 Nonprofit, Government, Academic, Landowner, General Public
$10 Students

Agenda (Mountain Time)

8:30 – 9:00am – In-Person Registration/bagels, coffee, espresso drinks*

9:00 – 10:45am – Lessons to be Learned from Federal Tax Law Cases

10:45-11:05am – Break (refreshments)

11:05am-12:20pm – Substantiation & Valuation Regulations and Related Case Law

12:20-12:40pm – Break (refreshments)

12:40-1:00pm – Syndicated Donation Transactions

1:00-2:00pm – Networking Reception and Light Lunch

* Salt Lake Roasting Company will be serving espresso drinks to in-person attendees 8:30am-2:00pm.


  • Karin Gross, Special Counsel, IRS Office of Chief Counsel, Washington D.C.
  • Stephen J. Small, Esq., Law Office of Stephen J. Small, Esq., P.C., Newton, Massachusetts
  • Mark Weston, Appraiser, AQB Certified USPAP Instructor, and Director, Division of Conservation, Colorado Dept. of Regulatory Agencies
  • Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
  • Wendy Fisher, Executive Director, Utah Open Lands

Session Descriptions

Lessons to be Learned from Federal Tax Law Cases
This session will cover a variety of important and vexing § 170(h) qualification issues, such as extinguishment, division of proceeds upon extinguishment (post-donation improvements and mortgage subordination), automatic approval and constructive denial clauses, amendments, identifying building areas or reserving rights to locate or move building areas, the “once encumbered always encumbered” rule, and satisfying the conservation purposes test. Topics are subject to change as new court decisions are issued.

Substantiation & Valuation Regulations and Related Case Law
This session will provide a comprehensive overview of the Final Treasury Regulations addressing substantiation and valuation (published in July 2018) as they relate to conservation easement donations. Topics to be covered include who is a “qualified appraiser,” what is a “qualified appraisal,” how to properly complete the IRS Form 8283 (appraisal summary) and Supplemental Statement, and the contemporaneous written acknowledgment requirement. This session also will address specific conservation easement valuation rules (e.g., the enhancement and “larger parcel” rules). Relevant case law will be addressed.

Syndicated Donation Transactions
In Notice 2017-10, the IRS announced that certain syndicated conservation easement transactions are “listed” (tax avoidance) transactions that require both investors and material advisors to make disclosures to the IRS. In September 2018, the IRS made these transactions the subject of one of its new “compliance campaigns.” And in December 2018, the Department of Justice filed suit to shut down certain promoters of such transactions in Georgia. This session will address the latest IRS and DOJ efforts to curb abuses in the syndication context.

Speaker Bios

Karin Gross is Special Counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel in Washington D.C. She has been involved in much of the litigation and other IRS developments regarding interpretation and enforcement of the § 170(h) deduction for conservation easements donations. She lectures widely in a variety of venues on these issues.

Stephen J. Small is a tax attorney at his own firm, the Law Office of Stephen J. Small, Esq., P.C., in Newton, Massachusetts. Before going into private practice, Mr. Small was an attorney-advisor in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel in Washington, D.C., where he wrote the federal income tax regulations on conservation easements. Mr. Small advises business and individual landowners and is recognized as the nation’s leading authority on private land protection options. He has worked directly on matters that have resulted in the protection of more than 1.5 million acres around the country. Mr. Small has given more than 400 speeches, seminars, and workshops around the country on tax planning for landowners, succession planning for family lands, and tax incentives for land conservation. He is a member of the Massachusetts and District of Columbia Bars.

Mark Weston is the Director of Colorado’s Division of Conservation, the agency that administers the state’s conservation easement tax credit program. Prior to joining state government in 2016, he practiced 30 years as an independent real estate appraiser, with special interest in valuation of conservation easements encumbering private land. Mr. Weston assisted in development of and was an instructor of the five-day conservation easement valuation seminar developed by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and the Appraisal Institute, and is an AQB Certified USPAP Instructor. He co-authored the Land Trust Alliance’s Tax Benefits & Appraisals of Conservation Projects(2007), is a contributing author of the Water Rights Handbook for Colorado Conservation Professionals (Colorado Water Trust, 2011) and Appraising Easements: Guidelines for Valuation of Land Conservation and Historic Preservation Easements (Land Trust Alliance & National Trust for Historic Preservation, 3rd ed., 1999).

Nancy A. McLaughlin is the Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law at University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. She is a Fellow and serves on the Board of Regents of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. She also is a member of the American Law Institute. She recently served as Reporter for the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Conservation Easement Act Study Committee. She is a member of the ABA’s Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law Section’s Conservation Easement Task Force. Her research focuses on conservation easements, tax incentives, and nonprofit governance issues and she writes and lectures extensively on these issues. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Utah Open Lands (a state-wide land trust), the Habitat Protection Advisory Committee of the Humane Society’s Wildlife Land Trust, and the Lands Protection Committee of Vital Ground (a land trust that works to protect grizzly bear habitat). She consults with land trusts, landowners, government entities, federal and state regulators, and others regarding conservation easements and nonprofit governance issues. Her articles on conservation easements, which address federal tax issues, valuation, perpetuity, interpretation, condemnation, merger, and other topics can be downloaded at

Wendy Fisher is the Executive Director of Utah Open Lands (UOL), a land trust that has preserved over 60,000 acres in the state of Utah. She has more than 28 years of experience with conservation easements and land trusts, having joined with the original Board of Directors in founding UOL in 1990 and served as its Executive Director since 1993. Ms. Fisher and UOL have been recognized as leaders in conservation efforts in Utah and have been awarded many distinguished honors. For example, in 2010, UOL was awarded Utah State University’s Botanical Center’s Environmental Stewardship Award, and in 2016, Ms. Fisher was named Park City Rotary’s Professional Citizen of the Year in recognition of UOL’s successful campaign to save the cherished 1,350-acre parcel known as Bonanza Flat. Ms. Fisher also has served on various state legislative task forces addressing agricultural, trail, and open space preservation issues, and in 2018 she chaired a subcommittee of the Utah Legislature’s Executive Water Task Force. She also gave the opening remarks at Columbia Law School’s 2014 Conservation Easement Conference, co-sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General Program and the National Association of State Charity Officials. Her story of the protection of Toll Canyon, Managing, Accommodating and Sustaining the Wild, was published in 2018 as part of the Reimagining a Place for the Wild collection of essays, first presented at the Reimagine Western Landscapes symposium held in Montana’s Centennial Valley.

This program is a special installment of Utah Open Lands’ Gaining Ground Seminars, in partnership with University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Sponsored by the Cultural Vision Fund and in cooperation with the Wallace Stegner Center.