AF Featured in Sault This Week: U.S. Group Repatriates Canadian Wild Lands

By Sara McCleary

Living in a border town surrounded by abundant natural lands, Saultites know Americans frequently cross the bridge to come enjoy the Canadian wilderness.

They also know those Americans often own land here in Canada, sometimes with the land having been passed down generation after generation.

Because many of those American-owned lands are important to conservation efforts in Canada, a unique American charity works to help American landowners transfer their properties to Canadian conservation groups to preserve the lands’ wildlife and natural habitats — and without having to pay hefty Canadian tax bills.

American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts has operated since 2007 with the goal of protecting Canada’s natural heritage by helping American owners of Canadian lands navigate their way through the complicated legal and tax requirements that come with being cross-border landowners.

“They often don’t know that they’re Canadian taxpayers and they can’t just give the land to their kids,” Sandra Tassel, American Friends program co-ordinator, told Sault This Week.

“We’ve had people come, ready to donate their property, and find out they have a whopping tax bill because they didn’t know they had to pay capital gains in Canada when they got it from their parents.”

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American Friends’ Case for Support

American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts (American Friends) has a focused purpose and unique role – protecting ecologically important land in Canada owned by conservation-minded Americans, in collaboration with Canadian conservation organizations.

American Friends is protecting land all across Canada, from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. Canada’s spectacular natural lands – seacoasts, forests, prairies, lakes, rivers, and islands – provide important ecological, economic, recreational, cultural, social and scenic benefits. These landscapes are defined by nature rather than political boundaries. Canada’s treasured landscapes, particularly those within a day’s drive of population centers in the US and Canada, are increasingly threatened. Demographics are causing big ownership shifts; as aging landowners sell their highly appreciated properties the new owners of these expensive properties are using them more intensively.

US taxpayers own a significant percentage of those priority conservation lands, for example:

  • 25% of Nova Scotia’s coast is owned by non-Canadians, most of whom are US taxpayers
  • In parts of Lake Huron’s ecologically-significant Georgian Bay, Americans own up to 80% of the properties
  • Americans own as much as 30% of private land in the beautiful Southern Gulf Islands in British Columbia

Land protection professionals identify protection of American-owned lands as critical for conservation success in many parts of Canada. Before the creation of American Friends in 2007, they found US and Canadian tax laws to be nearly insurmountable barriers to donations of land or conservation easements from US taxpayers.

American Friends removed those tax and legal barriers, encouraging and facilitating “cross-border conservation” – Canadian land protected by US property owners.

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