Below is a PALTA opinion piece published in Pennsylvania media outlets in December 2015:
Helping Owners Conserve Land for the Public Benefit
by Andrew M. Loza, executive director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
Farms and forests, natural areas, green spaces in our neighborhoods—all help define the places that we think of as home. These lands don’t just provide scenic beauty; they safeguard drinking water, reduce flooding, provide food and timber, protect wildlife and more.
They are also endangered. Between 1992 and 2005, urban land in Pennsylvania increased 131.4 percent—more than in all the previous millennia of human habitation. While the Great Recession brought the feverish pace of development down, lands crucial to our environmental, social and economic well being continue to be consumed for new development every day. Once these lands are gone, they are gone.
That’s why it’s more important than ever that we protect our most important unprotected green spaces. Land trusts do this by working in cooperation with landowners to implement a creative form of conservation that keeps lands open, natural and available for farming, forestry or other uses that involve minimal development — while also keeping them in the hands of private owners. A willing landowner may donate a conservation easement to a land trust. This conservation easement restricts development of the land in support of a stated conservation purpose. The generous landowner can use the donation to receive a modest tax deduction against her federal taxes.
This approach has seen tremendous success; Pennsylvania land trusts now hold conservation easements on 250,000 acres of irreplaceable green space—an area much larger than Delaware and Philadelphia Counties combined—thanks to the generosity of people and a small tax incentive.
Unfortunately, Congress allowed a 2006 law to expire that made sure that the tax incentive could be used by families with modest incomes, leaving in limbo landowners who want to conserve their lands.
The clock is ticking for our Senators to take urgent action to restore this vital conservation tool and make it permanent. Politicians from across the political spectrum support such action — the U.S. House voted to do so with overwhelming bipartisan support. U.S. Senator Casey has supported the legislation. For our sake and for future generations, we ask him to strongly advocate in the Senate for its passage. We ask Senator Toomey, who has not joined this bipartisan effort, to join his fellow Senators in making this crucial conservation tool permanent.