Programs for Farm and Land Owners
Conservation of land is critically important for many reasons — to protect water quality, to preserve important wildlife habitats, to filter pollutants from the air, to ensure the resources necessary for food production and to maintain the character of our communities.
We use an environmental resource inventory to identify land parcels that provide significant ecological benefits and work with private and public partners across the region to find ways to protect them.
There are four main avenues which can be used to protect critical lands. Parcels can be acquired and placed in placed in public ownership (as national, state and local parks, for instance), they can be acquired by private conservation organizations (examples include our Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve and New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary), they can remain in private ownership with a conservation easement established to protect its conservation values by limiting how the land can be used, or they can remain in private ownership and cared for by well-informed and committed individuals with a strong land ethic.
RHA owns and manages 11 properties comprising approximately 450 acres. We also hold 33 easements which total over 880 acres that are preserved in perpetuity on private lands. Given our limited capacity to preserve all of the ecologically sensitive lands throughout our watershed, we place a great deal of effort in educating local landowners and governing bodies and in working through partnerships with other conservation organizations (with partners, RHA has preserved over 5,000 acres of land in addition to those mentioned above) to achieve greater gains towards securing the environmental future of the Raritan Headwaters region.
The great conservation opportunities of this century will be on privately owned land, and conservation easements are the most effective way to protect those lands. Landowners like conservation easements because they are a refreshing alternative to government regulation: they are voluntary, local, and respect private property rights. For the many people who love their land, it is the best way to ensure that it will be preserved for all time.
Rand Wentworth, President of the Land Trust Alliance
Simply stated, a conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and an eligible organization (as determined by IRS requirements related to qualifications, commitment and resources) that restricts future activities on the land to protect its conservation values. Easements can be for a specified period of time or perpetual.
The Raritan Headwaters Association is an eligible land trust to preserve land under a conservation easement. Any land that is being considered by RHA for protection must lie within our watershed and meet selection criteria established by our Land Committee, based on RHA’s mission of water quality protection.
Historically, RHA easements have been perpetual, donated to the organization rather than purchased and do not require public access. If the easement meets federal tax code requirements, the owner may consider the donation a tax-deductible charitable contribution. If/when the property is sold, the conservation easement travels with the deed, ensuring continued protection. RHA asks for a financial contribution (endowment) to help defray the costs associated with monitoring and upholding the easement.
New Jersey’s farmland preservation program is structured to limit the uses of a protected area to agriculture. The farm owner sells the development rights of the land. An agriculture easement is usually attached to the deed of the property. The land owner still owns the land and can sell it in the future. The easement travels with the deed if/when the property is sold, ensuring that the agricultural use is protected. The State Agriculture Development Committee, local and county governments and the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program are often our partners in these projects.
Purchase of Land for Wildlife Preserves
RHA works in partnership with other non-profit conservation organizations, as well as municipal, county, state and federal governments, to purchase qualified lands as nature preserves that can be accessed by the public where practical. RHA has received funding through the New Jersey Green Acres program to contribute to the acquisition of over 5,000 acres.