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Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Building on a 75-Year Legacy of Land Conservation


What is a Voluntary Conservation Easement?

Throughout the country, voluntary conservation easements are recognized as a flexible, highly effective approach to conserving land while keeping property in private hands. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has used voluntary conservation easements for more than 25 years to conserve the natural, scenic and historic features of the region.

An easement is a voluntary legal agreement tailored to the property and to the interests of the landowner. If donated, it is considered a tax-deductible charitable gift, provided it meets certain requirements. It must be perpetual, donated exclusively for conservation purposes, and donated to a qualified conservation organization or public agency.

In a donated conservation easement, a property owner conveys certain specified rights to organizations like the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. While providing tax benefits, voluntary conservation easements also allow the land to continue to contribute to the local economy through taxation and protect it from subdivision and fragmentation.



Voluntary Conservation Easements with WPC Conserve Water, Land and a Way of Life

WPC Members Tom and Catherine Smith made a lasting contribution to conservation when they took action to ensure that their 70-acre property on Chestnut Ridge within the Tubmill Creek watershed in Westmoreland County will remain pristine forever.

The couple entered into a voluntary conservation easement with WPC that limits future subdivision and development on their land - a simple step that will yield great benefits for the environment. The Smiths also made a donation to WPC’s land stewardship program that will support land-monitoring efforts on this and other WPC-protected properties.

The couple, both attorneys in Pittsburgh, bought the land 12 years ago. Besides sharing professions, each has strong rural roots that drew them to appreciate and purchase property in the Laurel Highlands.

WPC’s Laurel Highlands Program Director Mike Kuzemchak first suggested the Smiths might consider a voluntary conservation easement with WPC.

“We met Mike at a fundraiser event and he told us how the Conservancy was trying to get people to consider conservation easements to improve biodiversity in the Laurel Highlands,” said Catherine Smith. “We love this land and wanted to be good caretakers of it and protect it from ever going away.”

The land the Smiths protected sits on Chestnut Ridge and looks out on Laurel Ridge. WPC has identified both of these ridges, which represent at least 10,000 acres of relatively uninterrupted forestland, as “priority forest blocks” that, if reconnected, would create large forest corridors for wildlife and improve the quality of life in the area. The Smith’s conservation easements donation represents an important step toward this goal. The forests of the Laurel Highlands have been a cherished resource in southwest Pennsylvania for generations. However, these forests are threatened by development that diminishes habitat for bobcats, fishers, scarlet tanagers and northern goshawks, all of which thrive only in deep forests.

“We’ve been privileged to see bobcat on numerous occasions, red and grey fox, grouse, box turtles and pileated woodpecker,” said Catherine Smith. “We have a bluebird habitat on our property, so we get to share some time with them, and we’ve seen rattlesnakes within ten feet of our front door.”

For more information on WPC’s Voluntary Conservation Easement Program in the Laurel Highlands contact Mike Kuzemchak at 724-238-2492 or mkuzemchak@paconserve.org.