Are you a county agency? Do you receive tax dollars to operate?
No and No. As a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, we lead conservation efforts through contributions from our memberships, corporate and private contributions, grants, and partnerships. We do not receive regular funding from a national organization, the government, or tax dollars to run our programs. Your contribution benefits your Berks County.
Can anyone become a member of Berks Nature?
Absolutely. Our membership consists of young families, business owners, retirees, students, seniors, parents, farmers, recreational athletes, outdoor enthusiasts, naturalists, educators, sportsmen – simply those that care about our quality of life in Berks County – now and for future generations. Our land, water, history, and recreational opportunities affect each and every one of us. Become a Member Now.
Are you a volunteer organization?
No. We currently have a staff of five paid employees. We do, however, utilize volunteers for a variety of our committees and projects.
How are you different from the Berks County Conservation District?
The Berks County Conservation District is a county agency – we are a non-profit organization. The Conservation District is dedicated to the encouragement and instruction of the wise stewardship of the soils and waters of Berks County so that present and future generations may have healthy land to live and work on and clean water for drinking and recreation. They also operate the popular annual tree seedling sale.
Are you the folks that manage the Ag Land Preservation Program?
No. The Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, a government agency, has been protecting farmland since 1989 through the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. The Agricultural Land Preservation Board, a nine-member board appointed by the Berks County Commissioners, is tasked with administering the agricultural land preservation program in Berks County. Agricultural easements limit the activity to agriculture and remain with the property deed in perpetuity.
Landowners receive compensation based on an appraised value of the easement rights to be granted. To date, over 65,000 acres of farmland have been preserved through this program. If you own a farm in Berks County you may qualify for this land protection program. For more information please call the Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Board at 610-378-1844 or visit www.co.berks.pa.us/alp/site.
What is an Agricultural Security Area (ASA)?
An Agricultural Security Area (ASA) entitles landowners and farmers to special consideration from local and state government agencies, thus encouraging the continuing use of the land for productive agricultural purposes. The local government unit may not impose ordinances that unreasonably restrict farm structures or practices within the ASA, nor may normal farming operations and practices be deemed nuisances in a nuisance ordinance. The key features of the Agricultural Security Area Law (Act 43) may be: possible farmer protection from condemnation, protection from nuisance laws, and the ability to apply to the Berks County Agricultural Conservation Easement (ACE) program. ASAs do not restrict land use or negatively impact landowners. Your municipality administers ASAs – for more information contact your municipality to inquire about this program.
What is Clean and Green?
The Clean & Green Act of 1974 was established to offer preferential tax assessment to owners of farmland, forestland, and open space by taxing land according to its use rather than the prevailing market value. The program is administered by the Berks County Assessment Office. The program is voluntary and generally requires that a 10-acre minimum remain in designated use (agricultural use, agricultural reserve, and forest reserve). Parcels of less than 10 acres and capable of producing $2,000 annually from the sale of agricultural products are eligible for the agricultural use designation. Land taken out of the permitted use becomes subject to a rollback tax, imposed for up to seven years, and an interest penalty.
To learn more or apply to the Clean and Green program, you can request information and an application from the Berks County Assessment Office. The telephone number for this office is 610-478-6262. Clean and Green is not a permanent land protection tool. It is possible to have your land enrolled in Clean and Green and protect it with a conservation easement at the same time.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust (like Berks Nature) or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
Why should I grant a conservation easement to Berks Nature?
People execute a conservation easement because they love their open space land, and want to protect their land from future inappropriate development while keeping their private ownership of the property. Granting an easement to a conservation organization that qualifies under the Internal Revenue Code as a “public charity” – which Berks Nature does – can yield income and estate tax savings. Moreover, Berks Nature has the expertise and experience to work with landowners and ensure that the land will remain as permanent open space. Remember, Berks Conservancy is your conservancy. As a 501(c)(3) private non-profit organization, we lead conservation efforts through contributions from our membership, corporate and private contributions, grants, and partnerships. We are not a government agency and, therefore, do not pay for our operations from tax dollars. Your land and financial contributions benefit your Berks County.
Are conservation easements popular?
Yes, they are very popular. Nationally, the amount of land protected by local and regional land trusts using conservation easements exceeds 5 million acres. Landowners have found that conservation easements can be flexible tools, and yet provide a permanent guarantee that the land won’t ever be developed. Conservation easements are used to protect all types of land, including coastlines; farm and ranchland; historical or cultural landscapes; scenic views; streams and rivers; trails; wetlands; wildlife areas; and working forests.
In Berks County, nearly 75,000 acres have been permanently protected through the use of conservation easements by the Berks County Ag Land Preservation Board (a government agency) and the non-profit Berks Nature.
How many acres must I own to protect my land with a conservation easement?
Berks Nature does not prioritize our land protection projects by acreage, but by conservation values. Whether you own 10 acres or 400 acres, a conservation easement may be right for you. Berks Nature subscribes to the Berks County Comprehensive Plan – Vision 2020 and will not actively pursue the protection of land identified as future growth. Your first step is to contact Berks Nature at 610-372-4992 to see if a conservation easement is right for you.
How can a conservation easement be tailored to my needs and desires?
A conservation easement restricts development to the degree that is necessary to protect the significant conservation values of that particular property. Landowners and Berks Conservancy staff, working together, can create conservation easements that blend both the landowner’s desires and the need to protect conservation values.
What steps do I take to develop a conservation easement?
First, contact Berks Nature at 610-372-4992 and request a Land Protection Application Packet and Fee Schedule. At your convenience, we will work with you to explore and discuss what you want to accomplish such as the conservation values you want to protect on the land, and what development rights you may want to retain. For example, you may already have one home on your property and want to preserve the right to build another home. That is one provision that must be specifically written into an easement agreement. Always consult with other family members regarding an easement, and remember that you should consult with your attorney or financial advisor regarding such a substantial decision.
How long does a conservation easement last?
Conservation easements are permanent, perpetual agreements that “run with the land,” binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to the easement’s restrictions. Only gifts of perpetual easements can qualify for income and estate tax benefits. The easement is recorded at the Berks County Recorder of Deeds Office so that all future owners will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports.
What are Berks Nature’s responsibilities regarding conservation easements?
Berks Nature is legally responsible for enforcing the restrictions that the conservation easement document spells out. Therefore, the organization monitors the property on a regular basis – typically once a year – to determine that the property remains in the condition prescribed by the conservation easement document. Berks Nature maintains written records of these monitoring visits, which also provides existing and future landowners a chance to keep in touch with the organization. Berks Nature has established a Stewardship Fund to provide for long-term stewardship, monitoring, and defense of the conservation easements, and all conservation easement donors will be asked to make a contribution to this fund.