Why is Long-term Stewardship Important?
Currently, 75% of Pennsylvania's forestlands are privately owned--within the Delaware River Basin, 84%. Similarly, in New York, 76% of forests are privately owned. In addition, forest landowners are an aging demographic. It is estimated that half of Pennsylvania's private forests will change hands in the next twenty years.1 This raises concerns about forest loss and fragmentation due to increasing development pressues as forestland is sold to new owners or passed to future generations.
Many of the services that forests provide are simply irreplaceable--from clean air and water to wildlife habitat for dozens of species, including endangered species like the box turtle, the golden winged warbler, and the bald eagle. Diverse forests are more resistant to insects, disease, and fire, and reduce the need for chemical management. They support the local tourism and forest product economy. Learn more in the Forest Values section.
In addition to Forest Management Plans, other options exist for landowners interested in conserving their lands for future generations. Landowners may work with a land trust to protect their land forever with a tool known as a conservation easement.
Long-term Conservation Options & Roles of a Land Trust
To learn more about long-term conservation options, a land trust should be your next step. There are a number of land trusts operating in the Delaware River region, including the Delaware Highlands Conservancy, Natural Lands Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Pocono Heritage Land Trust, and Wildlands Conservancy.
Each organization will be happy to provide more information about protecting your land with a conservation easement.
A conservation easement is a voluntary but legally binding agreement between a landowner and the Conservancy to permanently protect a portion (or all) of a land’s natural value. The land trust works with the landowner to craft a flexible agreement that will protect the core conservation values of the land, yet be adaptable to future needs. This legacy is recorded in the property deed and the land trust agrees to work in partnership with the landowner and future landowners to ensure the terms of the agreement are met, forever.
Conservation Easements Ensure:
- The land remains in private ownership (landowner retains title and pay taxes);
- Scenic character, wildlife habitat, water quality, and agricultural and forestland productivity of the property will be protected by limiting future subdivision and development;
- Continued use of the land for agriculture, forestry, recreation, or the multitude of other purposes compatible with conservation; and
- Compatible land use and development – landowner reserves the right to construct or maintain a residence on the property and may reserve the right to construct and maintain additional residences on the property.
In some cases, funding assistance may also be available to help cover the costs of placing a conservation easement on your property. To learn more, please contact one of the individual land trusts listed above.
Federal Tax Reduction
The "Enhanced Easement Incentive" was made permanent in 2015. Under the enhanced incentive, conservation easement donors are able to deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income when voluntarily donating an easement. Qualifying farmers are able to deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income. And, donors can carry unused deductions for their contribution over an additional 15 years.
Jane owns a vacant 100-acre parcel that could be divided into 20 five-acre residential lots. The current fair market value for the property is $400,000. Jane protects her land with a conservation easement that limits development to 2 homes.
With these restrictions, Jane’s property is now appraised with a potential market value of $250,000. The difference between the market value of the property before and after the conservation easement is the value of the easement.
$400,000 – $250,000 = $150,000
The value of the conservation easement may be used to reduce federal income and estate taxes.
New York State Property Tax Credit
Property owners with a conservation easement in New York may be eligible to receive a credit against their state income tax of up to 25% of school, county, and municipal real estate taxes with an annual cap of $5,000 per taxpayer, per year, on the undeveloped land. The tax credit does not reduce local property tax revenues, so it does not negatively impact town and county budgets.
Without proper planning, estate taxes may force landowners to split up and sell off the farm to pay estate taxes. A conservation easement reduces the appraised value of the property, subject to estate taxes. In addition, the landowner may exclude 40% of the appraised value from the taxable estate, up to $500,000.
Forest Management Practices
Depending on the location of your property, funding may also be available to help you implement good forest stewardship practices on your property, such as as streamside buffer plantings, invasive species management, or to cover the cost of a Forest Management Plan. The following resources may be of assistance: