For Landowners

Your Land, Your Legacy

three generations hiking through woods

As an owner of forested land you are a steward of one of Pennsylvania's greatest natural heritages. No matter your acreage, you are in a position to shape the landscape of your region for generations to come.  

If you are passionate about protecting your land and that natural heritage, you should plan for it. Estate taxes are one reason. Federal taxes can be as high as 55 percent of a property's fair market value, often forcing heirs to sell. And other future owners might not share your values or concern for the land, resulting in its loss to development, subdivision, poor logging practices or conversion to non-forest uses.

The Foundation for Sustainable Forests can work with you to find ways to protect your land and meet what other needs you might have. Please take a moment to know and understand your options for preserving your legacy and the integrity of the land. 


Take Steps to Guide the Future of Your Land

Conservation Options for Landowners

Manage Your Land Now for the Future

Take Steps to Guide the Future of Your Land

Until you have a plan, your legacy is only a good intention. Penn State University's Cooperative Extension Service and School of Forest Resources has outlined a number of suggested steps to guide the future of your land.

guy dunkle talking with troy firth

  • Access unbiased, research based information from sources such as Cooperative Extension or Soil and Water Conservation Districts to learn about options.
  • Develop a business model that will allow the next owner to keep the property intact and functional.
  • Discuss your options and record important decisions. Implement your plan and create a calendar to keep your plan up to date.
  • Create fond memories. Get family and friends out to work and have fun on the property.

Conservation Options for Landowners

There are a number of options available to landowners to protect their land now and into the future. We stand ready to help you customize the options below to meet your specific needs, desires and goals.

Land Donation: Donating land for conservation purposes is truly one of the greatest legacies a person can leave to future generations. It could be the best option for you if you do not wish to donate land to heirs; own property you no longer use; own highly appreciated property; have substantial real-estate holdings and wish to reduce tax burdens; or would like to be relieved of the responsibility of managing and caring for the land.

Donations can be made during your lifetime or as a bequest. Land donations have the potential to provide significant tax advantages. Of course, you should always consult with a tax and/or estate attorney.

Donation with Life Tenancy: It is possible to donate your land now, while continuing to live on and/or enjoy the property for the duration of your life. Such a donation would relieve you of the taxes and other burdens of ownership and could possibly provide tax benefits. There are several ways a life tenancy can be structured.

The Shared Gift Program – Benefitting the Land, Benefitting Others: This unique Foundation for Sustainable Forests program allows a donor to not only protect their land but provide an income stream for another charitable organization or institution, such as a college or university. Through the program the landowner gifts property to the Foundation for Sustainable Forests with a provision that 50 percent of the net earnings from the land go to support a designated charitable organization in perpetuity. The agreement is recorded in the deed. As a land trust, the Foundation holds the property in perpetuity and manages the land for long-term timber production but only as active management benefits the forest ecosystem and provides for the widest range of natural biodiversity possible.

Bargain Sale: If you need to realize some immediate income from your land, but would like to see it forever protected, a bargain sale might be the answer. In a bargain sale, you sell the land to the Foundation for less than fair market value. This makes it more affordable for the land trust, but also provides the seller several benefits, including reduced capital gains taxes and a potential charitable tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and the sale price.

Conservation Easements: A conservation easement is a widely used land protection tool that limits development and spells out permitted uses of the land in perpetuity. Landowners can sell or donate conservation easements.

Manage Your Land Now for the Future

boys planting trees with guy dunkle

The decisions you make now will have impacts far into the future.

Good forestry must involve a long-term view. Trees often have a lifespan of several hundred years so growing a healthy forest and maintaining a healthy forested ecosystem cannot be accomplished with short-term economic priorities.

Be reactive rather than proactive. Let conditions recommend the management rather than dictating conditions through management.

Maximize options. To accommodate future variables, management should create diversity and opportunity.

Emphasize art, not just science. Our scientific understanding is limited to a single generation of trees. Therefore, personal experience and intuition must play a role.

When deciding which trees to cut, focus on the health and potential of the forest as a whole, rather than the value of the tree. Using "worst-first" tree selection means that we harvest only the unhealthy, undesirable or worst trees. This leaves behind a forest stand of healthy, high quality trees that will yield the best long-term economic return and improve the overall health of the ecosystem.sammie hiking By avoiding large scale clearcuts and other intensive, industrial practices, our forests become a mosaic of trees with different heights, species, and functions. In many cases, early management is a matter of restorative forestry. Diverse forests are better able to provide habitat and to respond to future impacts.

We prioritize trees that remain in the forest over the ones being removed. No damage should be done to the remaining trees during a harvest and all impacts on the forest should be as minimal as possible. To achieve this, the Foundation typically uses teams of horses to skid logs rather than large machines. Since horses are lighter and smaller than conventional machinery we are able to navigate the forest without scraping against trees and compacting the soil.

Interested in hearing more? Contact us to discuss your options for conservation and management.