Reps. Gerlach and Meehan Visit Hildacy Farm
U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach (PA-6th) and Patrick Meehan (PA-7th) on Tuesday, August 30, joined regional conservationists for a tour of the 55-acre Hildacy Farm Preserve in Marple Township, Delaware County.
The tour, which was followed by a roundtable discussion on local conservation issues, helped highlight H.R. 1964, bipartisan legislation that will permanently extend federal tax incentives for property owners who donate their land for conservation.
The incentives have helped preserve hundreds of thousands of acres across the country and are particularly helpful to farmers, ranchers and other moderate-income landowners. At present, these tax incentives are scheduled to expire at the end of 2011.
“Hildacy Farm Preserve is a wonderful example of the lasting benefits that accrue when a landowner chooses to preserve their land,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “Choosing to donate one’s land for conservation – whether under a conservation easement or as a preserve like this – is an act of remarkable generosity and the incentives being supported by Congressmen Gerlach and Meehan make such donations accessible to more landowners. That translates into more land preserved.”
During the walk, guide Ann F. Rhoads, PhD, a botanist from the Morris Arboretum and member of Natural Lands Trust’s Board of Trustees, noted the variety of plants species present on the preserve, including several species that are edible. The Congressmen even sampled food made with garlic mustard, an invasive plant common in the region.
“Making the conservation easement tax credit permanent would protect more than farmland and open space,” Gerlach said. “It would preserve property owners’ freedom to make choices about their land and decide what’s best for an asset that, in many instances, has been passed down from generation to generation. I am extremely honored to work side-by-side with Congressman Meehan, Montgomery County Lands Trust, Natural Lands Trust, the Brandywine Conservancy and other organizations to permanently extend the conservation easement tax incentive for family farmers, moderate-income property owners and others.”
Voluntary conservation agreements, also known as conservation easements, are a popular tool for protecting natural areas, working farms, and ranches and can make it easier and more affordable for families to leave their land to the next generation. A landowner who grants a conservation easement continues to own and manage his or her land, but restricts its use to protect the property’s significant natural, agricultural, scenic and open space resources.
The conservation easement tax incentive applies to a landowner’s federal income tax. It:
- Raises the deduction a donor can take from 30 percent of their income in any year to 50 percent of their income.
- Allows farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income.
- Increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 to 16.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity today to tour Hildacy Farm Preserve and to have had a good, productive discussion about conservation issues in our region – issues that don’t always get the attention that they deserve,” said Congressman Meehan. “I am hopeful that the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, a bill with broad bipartisan support, will pass this Congress. It will not only help to preserve open space in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but it will also help protect our environment for future generations.”
To date the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Gerlach earlier this year, has 260 co-sponsors, including Rep. Meehan. A companion bill (S.339) that has been introduced in the Senate has 14 co-sponsors.
“For the past 25 years, our region has experienced unprecedented levels of land development,” said David Shields, Associate Director of the Brandywine Conservancy. “Land conservation efforts were hard pressed to compete with the developers, lacking the financial resources necessary. The enhanced tax incentives offer landowners an important tax benefit and have motivated many to conserve their land rather than let it be developed.”
Dulcie Flaharty, Executive Director of Montgomery County Lands Trust, noted that the economic benefits of preserving open space are clearly documented in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A recent study commissioned by the GreenSpace Alliance and Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission found that open space in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties adds $16.3 billion to the region’s home values, saves more than $130 million in water treatment and flood control costs, and through recreation at area parks and trails, avoids $1.3 billion in health related costs.
“Over the past 20 years residents of southeastern Pennsylvania have spoken from their hearts in protecting and enhancing natural areas, farmland, greenways and trails throughout the region,” Flaharty said. “This study allows citizens to conserve land by also using facts and calculations based on nature and what she provides in substantial economic benefit.”
More information about the incentive is available from the Land Trust Alliance.