Understanding Conservation Easement in Land Use and Development

Wyoming is a state with a lot of land with comparatively few people. As a consequence, there are many privately-owned properties that are quite extensive and that may abut or restrict access to state lands that may constitute a source of water, fishing, scenic views, or habitat for wildlife. In some cases, the property itself may be considered something that should be preserved or restricted from land use or development for one reason or the other. In such cases, the state, municipality, county or land trust would request or constrain the land owner to provide a conservation easement. This would protect the land from being used improperly.

The whole concept of a conservation easement is a cacophony of potential legal issues. The fact that the land is privately-owned guarantees some legal wrangling if the landowner is unwilling to confer rights that would normally go with ownership to the concerned government unit or land trust. This is especially true in Wyoming, where the potential for profit is literally right under their feet. Oil and mineral deposits are continually being discovered in the area, and land rights can mean a cushy lease agreement with oil companies and prospectors.

Even if the landowner is willing to grant the power to the government unit or land trust, conservation easement “runs with the land.” This means that when the land changes hands, the conservation easement should also hold true unless there is an agreement between the original landowner and the easement holder to the contrary. Otherwise, a conservation easement may only be terminated with the approval of the court because it is a charitable trust designed to preserve the land for future generations, and may not arbitrarily be terminated.

This is the issue which has become part of legal lore in decisions concerning charitable trust in the case of Hicks v. Dowd. According to an article on the website of the lawyers at Smith Kendall PLLC, there are many issues involved in the case such as the effect on property values that can swing the case in either way. But even outside the issue of conservation easements, rights to land are always a tricky area when there are claims and counterclaims. It would need the services of a lawyer with wide experience in handling land use and development cases to clarify and resolve a particular issue to the satisfaction of all parties concerned and/or before a court of law.

If you believe you have a land use and development case, make sure you have a knowledgeable attorney on your side. These types of cases are very complicated and you shouldn’t try and handle it on your own. With the help of an attorney, you should be able to make sure that you are protected.