Westchester Land Trust (WLT) is pleased to announce that the New York State Supreme Court granted an important victory toward upholding conservation easement laws and preserving natural habitats. This ruling is significant, because it is a test of the value of such laws and upholds WLT’s ability to permanently protect irreplaceable resources.
In 2010, WLT was compelled to pursue legal action against the Town of Lewisboro because of a lease agreement between the Town and the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC). The terms of the lease allowed the development of a man-made wolf habitat on the Leon Levy Preserve. On July 12, 2011 the Court ruled to uphold the conservation easement. The ruling is specific in stating that the scope of development required for the habitat, including constructing large fenced enclosures, clearing many trees, placing culverts, digging artificial ponds, and allowing other earth moving activities is a violation of the easement.
In 2000, the Leon Levy Preserve was designated by the Town of Lewisboro’s Conservation Advisory Council as one of the most important properties for permanent preservation in the town. In 2005 the Town of Lewisboro purchased approximately 370 acres known as the Leon Levy Preserve for $8.3M. WLT contributed $5.5M to the purchase in return for an easement to ensure that the property be held in perpetuity in an undeveloped state in order to protect its natural resource values and to provide appropriate passive recreational activity.
Since 1988, WLT has written 184 conservation easements to protect and preserve over 7,500 acres throughout the county. Easements are drafted after careful documentation of all natural habitat, indigenous flora and fauna, and mapping research on watershed patterns. It is the language of the easement that protects the value of these documented natural resources.
We are pleased that the court agreed that the intent of the easement language is clear and important. WLT supports the educational purpose of wolf habitats and the mission of WCC. This decision is specific to the creation of a man-made habitat on the Leon Levy Preserve. With this decisive ruling, it is the hope of WLT that we can begin implementing the Leon Levy Preserve plan for an accessible, natural preserve for the recreation and enjoyment of the residents of Lewisboro and others. WLT is eager to work with the Town of Lewisboro to help find funding sources and to create a true partnership in the spirit of the community’s love of its natural environment.
Thank you for your support. We will continue to protect our valuable natural resources and to make sure they remain protected forever. The full court decision is available here.