Westchester Land Trust v Town of Lewisboro and Wolf Conservation Center

NY Supreme Court, Westchester County, Index no. 23534/10, July 13, 2011: Summary judgment order by trial court that conservation easement from Town to land trust prohibits the creation of fenced enclosures or “habitat” for the keeping of wolves.

The conservation easement was granted by the Town as a condition to receiving a grant from Westchester Land Trust (WLT) that helped the Town buy the land. The Town leased a portion of the easement land to the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) for the creation of a habitat for wolves. WLT claimed the fencing, enclosures and habitat for the introduction of a non-native species all involved changes to the topography and vegetation that are prohibited by the conservation easement and do not constitute environmental education and “non-destructive nature study” allowed by the easement. WCC and the Town argued that the conservation easement does not explicitly prohibit any of the proposed physical changes to the property or the proposed use, which they said was consistent with the purposes of the easement.

The court found that “the planned [wolf habitat] use for the leased property cannot be effectuated without activity that is prohibited by the terms of the conservation easement”. The court found the easement purposes of holding the land in an undeveloped state and providing for passive recreation, and the express prohibitions in the easement of certain activities, are unambiguously inconsistent with “a certain amount of development” necessary for the creation of the wolf habitat. The court distinguished a wolf habitat from a habitat for indigenous fauna, and said that plan to fence in the wolves meant that there is no “serious argument” that a “historically native” species in being “reintroduced”.

News reports indicate WCC may appeal http://blogs.wsj.com/metropolis/2011/07/18/westchester-wolf-habitat-loses-legal-battle/?mod=google_news_blog and WLT will seek reimbursement of legal fees. http://www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/lewisboroledger/news/localnews/98768-land-trust-wins-lawsuit-against-wolf-center.html

Order available at http://www.westchesterlandtrust.org/files/Decision.pdf.

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