Land Conservation is a Priority
Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District has long been renowned for its beautiful landscapes and rich farmland. The beauty of our open space has attracted visitors and new residents alike for years. Ironically, the appeal of our landscapes and open space creates a demand for development and housing that threatens that very quality of life. As land prices rise and demand for homes increases, more and more farm land is being developed.
Sadly, these cherished open spaces are beginning to disappear as the pressure for new development grows. I understand how important the preservation of open space and the conservation of our natural farmland are to the people I represent. Because of this, I have been working with my colleagues in Washington to raise awareness of the need for land conservation.
This year, I worked with my colleagues Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) to create the new, bi-partisan Land Conservation Caucus in the House of Representatives. The working group was created with the goal of educating Members of Congress and their staffs about issues of importance to the conservation and preservation of open space and farmland. The group also seeks to encourage policy that helps us preserve the beauty and regional charms of our country, maintain clean air and clean water, and promote the public health of our communities.
The caucus works with land conservation advocacy groups as a forum so that Members of Congress can be made aware of their concerns and priorities. One of the ways the caucus meets its stated goals is by holding briefings to educate Members and their staffs on specific issues. We recently held a briefing on the conservation provisions in the Farm Bill being considered in the Senate. The Farm Bill is Congress' single largest piece of agricultural policy. Authored every five years, the Farm Bill is an important opportunity for land conservation legislation.
Outside of the caucus, I have also worked on specific legislation that will aid in the preservation of open space, especially the type of open space that makes the 16th district such a special place to live.
Since 1960, approximately 1.5 million acres of American farmland have been converted to non-agricultural uses each year. Land development and urbanization are leading to fragmentation of agricultural and forest land and the loss of prime farmland and wildlife habitat.
Additionally, many farmers facing sprawling development also face an increasing tax burden due to escalating land values and increasing costs for community services, yet these same farmland properties help to create the scenic vistas and unique way of life in our district. In fact, as development increases, the farmland in our communities becomes even more precious to us. Rising land prices, and thus tax burdens, often place farmers in a difficult position, forcing them to sell their land. Indeed, many of the surrounding community members would like to see the land stay in agricultural use. However, the large taxes assessed on the sale of such land makes it prohibitive for farmers to sell their land to anyone but developers, who are willing to pay top dollar.
Because of this predicament, I have introduced legislation that would provide an incentive for preserving open space by preventing farmers from having to pay taxes when they sell the development rights to their land to a land-conservation entity. By selling the development rights to their land, known as easements, this legislation allows farmers to continue using their land for agricultural use while escaping the high taxes in increasingly urban areas like Lancaster and Chester County. And the easements assure that the land will remain as open space or farmland in perpetuity.
By alleviating the tax burden on farmers who wish to keep farming their land, my legislation encourages the preservation of open space and ensures that future generations will be able to enjoy the beauty and productivity of this great natural resource.
Preserving our unique way of life is a priority for me. I realize how much the people of the 16th district cherish the farmland and open space with which we have been blessed. I will continue to work hard to encourage responsible land use and preservation of our natural treasures.