(Special) - I get my fair share of mail. My first task when it comes in the door is to lay it out on the kitchen table and separate the junk from the good stuff.

A few months back I got an envelope from Environment Canada that immediately caught my attention because I can't ever recall getting anything from that federal department. I get mail from Revenue Canada all the time, but never from Environment Canada.

Expecting to see something about endangered birds or disappearing beetles, I was surprised to find a modestly-attractive one-page flyer with the title, Tax Tools for Private Land, printed above a mystical image of rocks shrouded in mist on Manitoulin Island.

The flyer was all about the federal government's ecological gifts program.

It seems that Canadians have donated more than 450 properties worth more than $123 million to charities since the program was established in 1995.

The ecological gifts program offers people who have rural or wilderness property the opportunity to gift all or part of it to charities and get a substantial income tax benefit.

In many cases, the landowner can continue to hold title and/or live on the land.

Ecogifts range in size from thousands to millions of dollars and are among the largest charitable donations being made in Canada today.

Many Canadians who own wetlands, woodlands or other wildlife habitats cherish their land and want to see its natural features preserved.

Ecogifts allow Canadians the opportunity to create a natural legacy and protect family lands while benefitting from specific tax benefits.

Ecological gifts receive tax treatment that is superior to many other charitable gifts.

Ecogift donations are not subject to the usual income limits (usually 75 per cent of income) in calculating the income tax credit for individuals or deductions for corporations.

Ecogifts made after May 2, 2006, benefit from the elimination of the normal capital gain realized on the disposition of property. Currently, 50 per cent of the capital gain for non-certified gifts or sales of land is included in taxable income.

Another advantage is that landowners don't need to sever their connection with the land.

They can conserve the natural values of their property and still retain ownership by entering into a conservation easement agreement with a nature conservation organization that will restrict designated activities in perpetuity.

As well, landowners may donate the property to an eligible organization and keep the right to use or live on the land for their lifetime or the life of someone they name, such as their children.

Environment Canada issues a Statement of Fair Market Value certifying the gift's value after it is made, which the donor then submits with their income tax return.

Environment Canada reviews and approves the recipient of gifts to ensure the organizations are dedicated to protecting Canada's natural heritage.

Income tax penalties can be imposed on charitable and municipal recipients of ecogifts that dispose of title or change the use of the properties without Environment Canada's prior authorization.

To claim a land donation as an ecogift, Environment Canada must approve the recipient and certify the ecological sensitivity and fair market value of the gift.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors. (boggsyourmoneyrogers.com)

Copyright 2007 Talbot Boggs