Conservancy praises bipartisan land bill

The Brandywine Conservancy voiced enthusiasm today for a bill introduced by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) that will make permanent a tax incentive that helps landowners conserve important natural, agricultural and historic resources.

 The legislation has received bipartisan support from Congress with more than 300 co-sponsors from both parties for "The Conservation Easement Incentive Act" (H.R. 1964). The vast majority of conservation easements held by the Brandywine Conservancy have been donated by landowners, many of whom benefited from similar tax incentives, a news release from the Conservancy said. "Jim Gerlach understands the critical importance of protected open space and its value to our local communities. We are grateful for his leadership in sponsoring this bill and appreciate all of the other co-sponsors from Pennsylvania," said Sherri Evans-Stanton, director of the Conservancy's Environmental Management Center, in the release.

  Of the thousands of bills introduced in the U.S. House during the current session, fewer than 10 have garnered 300 or more co-sponsors, the release said. "This legislation has generated tremendous bipartisan support because the conservation easement tax credit works," Gerlach said in the release. "The tax credit gives family farmers, ranchers and other property owners more choices and creates opportunities for partnerships between non-profit organizations, federal, state and local officials.”

Under the legislation, landowners can retire the development rights on their land by donating a conservation easement to a land trust like the Brandywine Conservancy, keeping farm, ranch and forest lands in productive use, protecting important natural resources, and conserving the area's scenic and historic heritage. Since the incentive expired at the end of 2011, landowners with modest incomes now receive little tax benefit from restricting what may be their family's most valuable asset, the release said.

The Brandywine Conservancy holds more than 440  conservation easements and has permanently protected more than 45,000 acres in Chester and Delaware counties, as well as New Castle County in Delaware, the release said . Preserving open space and family farms helps to maintain the water's quality and quantity. The Brandywine Watershed, with its streams and tributaries, is a major source of drinking water for communities such as Downingtown, Coatesville, West Chester and Wilmington, De.

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